Dogs don’t typically hug each other, as we do in the human world. They might pin each other down during a playful scuffle, but that’s usually it. So when you go to squeeze your dog, they won’t understand what you’re trying to say. And when you’re staring at them and putting your face next to theirs, they may view it as a threat.

What Do Hugs Mean to a Dog?

Since they’re affectionate creatures, do dogs like hugs from their people? Because of what their body language is like, they send them a different message than pets and belly rubs do.

To a dog, being hugged by their owner typically means one of two things: they’re either in trouble, or they’re about to be. When you wrap your arms around them, they probably think you’re displaying dominance over them – just like another dog would, by pinning them down and restricting their movement.

Is There Science Behind Dogs Not Liking Hugs?

Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, actually wrote a piece on that. He picked a random 250 pictures of people hugging dogs and analyzed the dogs’ body language. He found that 81% of them were showing one or more signs of anxiety, such as:

  • baring their teeth,
  • turning their head away,
  • partially closing their eyes or showing a “half-moon eye”,
  • lowering their ears,
  • licking their lips,
  • yawning,
  • raising one paw.
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Some people argue that it wasn’t a scientific study and shouldn’t be taken seriously. However, Coren is no layman, but an expert dog behaviorist. His findings confirm the observations he made over the course of his career.

He points out that most tragic cases of facial bites in children happen in situations where the child has been hugging the dog. Most bite prevention programs advise to never do it – why not listen to them?

Is Your Dog an Exception?

Some dogs do seem to enjoy being hugged, regardless of the fact that it’s not a typical dog behavior. They’ll keep wagging their tails and sticking their tongue out as you embrace them. However, it’s more likely that they’re actually tolerating the hug out of love for you.

Your dog may be so outgoing and patient that it’s hard to make them angry. Still, wouldn’t you rather show your affection in a way they understand and love? The best way is to pet them and praise them verbally.

Do Dogs Like Hugs if They’re Light?

That’s not to say that canines don’t enjoy being touched. They do! But they typically like it best when you’re not hugging them. Instead, try petting them on the chest or back. And if you do want to hug your dog, make sure to do it in a way that doesn’t make them feel trapped. Allow them to move away if they need to, and don’t hold them too tight.

Do dogs like hugs if they’re given treats afterwards? If your dog associates light hugs with something pleasant, then they might start to enjoy them. But it’s best to let your dog initiate the embrace – that way, you know they’re truly enjoying it.

What about Therapy Dogs?

You might have seen pictures of therapy dogs being hugged by children or adults. They often seem to enjoy it, but that’s not always the case. Remember that therapy dogs are specially trained to deal with all sorts of situations, including being hugged. They know they’re not in danger and are well-rewarded for their efforts.

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How to Teach a Dog to Accept Hugs?

With desensitization and counter-conditioning training, any dog can be taught to tolerate hugs. This helps to make them less aggressive when approached by strangers in public, including overexcited kids that will give them a hug without thinking much about it.

How to do it? For example, you could start by sitting close to your dog, then touching their shoulders and immediately offering them a treat. Once they’re happy about that kind of touch, start gently embracing your dog for a short moment before giving them a treat. Gradually increase the firmness of your hugs, and always reward your pup for their patience.

Do Dogs Like Cuddling?

Yes, they do! Cuddling is different from hugging, as you’re not trapping your dog in your arms. You’re simply snuggling up to them while petting them – and most dogs love that. It lowers both yours and their stress levels, makes you feel happy and loved, and strengthens the bond between you.

Just make sure your dog is okay with being snuggled first. Some dogs prefer their own space and might not be too keen on being close to you for extended periods of time. Others will adore it and might even fall asleep in your arms.

Do Dogs Like Hugs More or Less, Depending on Their Breed?

There’s no simple answer to this question. Each dog is an individual and will therefore accept or dislike hugging depending on their personality. Some breeds are more prone to being aloof or independent, such as Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, and Basenjis. They might feel more negatively about being hugged than other breeds.

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Dogs that are known as gentle giants, such as Bernese Mountain Dogs, Newfoundlands, and St. Bernards, are more likely to accept being hugged. But even within a breed, there will be individual dogs that do or don’t like it.

The only way to know for sure is to look at your pet’s reaction! If they look uncomfortable or try to squirm away, it’s best to leave them alone.

Listen to Your Dog’s Body Language and You Can’t Go Wrong

So, do dogs like hugs? Usually not, but they may be okay with it. Some will still appreciate the close physical contact, while others would prefer you not to touch them at all. The best way to show your affection is to pet them and praise them verbally – that way, you know they’re truly enjoying it.

Watch how your dog reacts when you hug them – that’s the best way to know for sure!


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