When you see your dog doing something adorable (aka all the time), I know you want to do nothing more than run over to them and smother them in a big bear hug. This may seem like the best way to express your undying love for your furbaby, but I urge you to find an alternative.
While most dogs will patiently let you finish your hug, counting down the seconds until they’re free from your grasp, others will let their discomfort show immediately. A dog’s behavior will likely differ according to who is giving the hug; they may be more tolerant if it comes from you than if a stranger tries it.
The reason for this aversion to hugs is actually quite interesting. Humans and dogs have evolved with different ways of greeting and showing their affection; while humans often start an interaction with a hug, dogs sniff each other, smile, and wag their tails.
These different methods of greeting have been hardwired into dog and human biology, making them difficult to change.
In fact, the closest thing dogs do to hugging is a behavior called “standing over," in which they put one or both legs over the shoulder of another. In dog terms, this behavior relates to a show of social status or competition for resources and the dog doing it is trying to gain more control.
So it’s easy to see why some dogs may be uncomfortable with you wrapping your arms around them, as to them it’s a sign of dominance or assertiveness. Depending on your relationship with the dog, a hug can be seen as a potential threat.
If you do give your dog a hug, their body language will give you a good idea of whether or not they’re enjoying it. The most obvious sign that your dog is not down with your hug is a visible display of aggression, such as bared teeth or growling. There are more subtle signs you should look for as well.
Dogs that are feeling uneasy with the hug will go stiff, close their mouth, or start licking their lips. This behavior is a tell-tail sign that they are feeling anxious, maybe wondering what they did wrong or if they should just sit still and wait for it to be done.
If you’re not sure whether your dog enjoys being hugged, try having someone take a picture of your pup’s face during it. Since you can’t see their face, it can be hard to tell exactly how they’re feeling. You may think your dog is enjoying your warm embrace, but their face may be showing they are stoically putting up with it for your sake.
If your dog has an obvious dislike for hugs, it’s not a bad idea to train them to tolerate the occasional embrace. This may come in handy if they need to be restrained while at the vet or if they are going to be around small children who may hug them without warning. To make your pup more comfortable being hugged, slowly work your way to sitting shoulder to shoulder, one arm around, then both arms. During each stage, provide lots of positive reinforcements such as hugs, pets, or playtime with their favorite toy.
When it comes to hugging, it’s important to keep in mind that every dog is unique; some dogs enjoy hugs where as others can barely tolerate them. More often than not, though, dogs tend to lean more towards simply tolerating or visibly disliking them.
Also keep in mind that their feelings towards hugs may change depending on who is giving the hug; it might be okay if you do it, but not if a stranger does it. You wouldn’t be too thrilled if someone you’ve never met came up and gave you a hug, would you? It takes time to build to that level of comfort. Just be patient, provide positive reinforcement, and your dog will come around to your loving embrace.
H/t to: Mother Nature Network
Featured image via: @akbarratt / Instagram