Does Hugging Your Dog Stress Them Out?

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Humans consider physical touch as one of our love languages. So, it’s natural to want to embrace our loved ones, including dogs.  

But what we may think of as enjoyment or affection may be considered a threat or dislike by some dogs. In fact, many believe that our dogs hate being hugged. 

Does hugging your dog stress them out?  

Find out what experts have to say about dogs and hugs and how to know if your dog likes being hugged.  

We also explore the signs of stress in dogs and how to show affection to dogs without hugging them. 

hugging dogs stress

Dogs Are Cursorial Animals 

Before knowing if hugging your dogs can stress them out, it’s important to first understand that dogs come from a long line of cursorial animals way before they were domesticated.  

A cursorial animal is an animal that is adapted for swift running.  

When our furry friends are in times of stress, the first thing they do is not to bite their teeth nor make noises, but to run away.  

There are many kinds of cursorial animals. For instance, a horse is a cursorial grazer while a wolf is a cursorial predator. 

Some of these animals, like the leopard, can run long distances at high speeds.

Cheetahs, however, are not cursorial organisms because while they can run swiftly, they cannot cover long distances. 

Does Hugging Your Dog Stress Them Out? 

Yes, it can stress some dogs.

Since dogs are cursorial animals, hugging your dog may stress them out because you are depriving them of the ability to run.

As their stress levels increase, they may start biting you to get away. 

And to many animals, being suddenly grabbed is a sign of harm.

They understand this as an attack from a predator, so they try to fight back with a bite because they cannot run. 

Even if dogs have learned that humans are not predators, they may still feel uncomfortable when given a hug.  

According to an observation by Dr. Coren, dogs don’t get violent when they get hugged, but they may squirm, struggle, and show signs of being in a fight-or-flight mode. 

Aside from that, dogs usually only grab things in between their front legs to show dominance.

They are not play-fighting, hugging, or showing affection when they do this.  

You also don’t see dogs greeting one another with a hug, do you? Their particular way of greeting doesn’t include having a foreleg over their shoulder.

Dogs greet each other by rump smelling, tail wagging, and play bowing.   

When a dog puts their foreleg over another dog, the other one gets stiff with their mouths closed because they feel threatened.

The same happens when we try to hug them. 

Hugging your dog can stress them out, and this has been claimed by many articles about dog bite prevention before Dr. Coren even conducted his study.

However, his study is still not enough to prove that dogs hate hugs. 

In fact, Dr. Coren stated that “this is a set of casual observations.” He arrived at this finding by simply analyzing a sample of 250 photos of humans hugging dogs via Google Images and Flickr.  

Results show that 81.6% of dogs showed signs of discomfort or stress. 

The study is also not peer reviewed. One criticism discusses that these images on Google and Flickr are not reliable.  

People may be posting these pictures because of their dogs’ funny faces or staging a hug for a photo makes the process awkward for dogs.  

And besides, every dog is different. Some dogs may like hugging and being hugged by their humans, especially during bedtime.  

How to Know if Your Dog Likes Being Hugged 

Very few dogs like being hugged. Is yours one of them?  

The key to knowing whether your dog likes to be hugged is to understand their body language

One sign that they enjoy being hugged is when they put a paw on you. This could be their way of saying, “I like what you are doing, keep it coming!” 

Dogs may also wag their tail to show enjoyment from your embrace. Make sure that they are wagging their tail in a relaxed way, and not in an anxious way.   

Signs of Stress in Dogs 

Dr. Cohen looked for signs of stress when trying to find out if dogs hate hugs. 

Here are some signs that indicate your dog’s dislike for hugs: 

  • ears down 
  • half-moon eyes 
  • head turned to avoid eye contact 
  • submissive eye closure 
  • lip licking 
  • panting. 

Can You Teach Your Dog to Tolerate Hugs? 

Some dogs hate being hugged while others do not care. But can you teach your dog to love and enjoy hugs? 

The best way to try this is by making sure they have positive associations with hugs. 

When you carefully hug your dog, reward them with a treat when they show positive responses like staying calm or leaning into you.  

Continue wrapping your arm around them and giving them treats every time you move closer. 

Learn more about how to use treats for dog training to ensure your success.

How to Show Affection to Your Dog Without Hugging 

If your pup definitely does not like hugs there are other ways you can show them love.  

Here are some ways to show your love for your dog without hugging them. 

Play 

Play is an affiliative behavior in dogs that creates and maintains social bonds. Try playing a game of fetch with your dog using some fun toy balls, and offer them treats when they bring them back to you. 

Rub Their Ears 

Patting your dog’s head is a classic, but have you tried giving them a gentle rub behind their ears?  

They will melt into happiness because this stimulates the release of endorphins which are hormones for relieving pain and bringing pleasure. 

Gaze Into Their Eyes 

Eye contact is a way of displaying affection for your dog.

Pet them gently and just stare into their eyes as you raise your eyebrows.  

Stay Close to Your Dog 

Another very important affiliative behavior in dogs is simply being close to each other.  

Think about how often dogs sleep curled next to one another or to you. They will surely love it if you do the same for them. 

You can also try leaning on them when they are sitting down as a way of showing affection. 

Should You Hug Your Dog? 

The evolutionary concept of dogs as cursorial animals shows that dogs do not like being hugged because they are being deprived of their ability to run during a dangerous situation.  

The same generalization is given by Dr. Cohen who analyzed photos of dogs being hugged by humans. 

While these are valid observations, it should be noted that every dog has a unique personality.  

The best way to know if they like or dislike being hugged is to understand dog body language and keep an eye out for signs of enjoyment or stress in your dog.  

If you think that they are not a fan of hugs, you can always show affection to them in other ways, such as a rub behind the ears, playing games with them, offering treats, or simply being close to them. 

Look for other ways you can keep your dog happy and healthy.

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