Why Dogs Do Not Like to Be Hugged

Updated on December 11, 2018
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Humans appear to love to hug anybody they love: we hug our spouses, we hug our kids, we ultimately hug anybody we care about. It comes natural, therefore, to want to extend our arms and hug our dogs as well. Many dogs take this well, they have been used to being hugged and smooched since puppies, however, some dogs may not tolerate hugs, or some dogs that have tolerated it well in the past, may one day express they no longer appreciate this form of affection.

Subtle Signs That go Unnoticed

Dogs may manifest their dislike about being hugged in various ways. Some signs may be quite subtle, whereas, others can be quite evident. A dog may express his uneasiness in being hugged by licking his lips, turning his head away or yawning. These are signs of stress, or better ''calming signals'' as coined by Turid Rugaas, an internationally known trainer and author of the bestselling book: "On Talking Terms With Dogs".

It is unfortunate though that these signs of appeasement often go ignored. So what happens? The owner continues to hug the dog despite the dog is trying to convey he is uncomfortable, so next time, the dog may feel the need to upgrade to a ''growl''. This growl may be quite soft and low at first, but may increase with intensity if ignored.

One day, if the dog's plea to not be hugged anymore goes to deaf ears, it may even escalate to a snarl (a growl with a nice teeth display) or a muzzle punch (dog hitting a person with his muzzle).

Growling upon being hugged is generally not a rational thought response. Do not take it personally if this happens. It is rather an innate response triggered by the dog's self-defense system. The dog may feel alarmed and he may go into a ''fight or flight mode,'' but since a hug restraints him, he may more likely go into fight mode and react aggressively by giving a warning growl.

Never Punish a Dog's Growl

Sometimes though, things do not go smoothly. Some dogs may skip all these warning signs (growl, snarl, muzzle punch) of increasing tension and may go straight to a bite. Dogs who bite without a warning are often dogs who have often been scolded for growling.

If for instance, the owner believes that growling upon being hugged is unacceptable and decides to reprimand the dog for that, the dog may feel the need to go to his next line of defense which is the bite. A growl can therefore turn out being a lifesaver despite it is unpleasant to hear.

Hugging is a Primal Instinct

Patricia McConnell, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist in her famous book: ''On the Other End of the Leash'' likes to refer to our need for hugging as a primate instinct.

Hugging indeed is a hard-wired behavior common in both primates and humans. The reason behind this is perhaps because humans and primates appreciate ventral- to -ventral (chest to chest) contact perhaps because it may bring back unconscious feelings of pleasure associated with nursing and intimate closeness such as carrying children in the arms.

Dogs do not have this sort of positive association ( among dogs, paws around them or on their shoulders is considered rude behavior) therefore they do not by nature appreciate this form of contact.

Creating Positive Associations With Hugs

Dogs may be conditioned to appreciate hugs by associating it with good things such as tasty treats, lots of praise or pleasant scratches behind the ears.This is best done from an early age when dogs are young puppies.

You can start by touching the puppy slightly near the neck area and giving treats. As each day goes by, practice taking baby steps on performing all the movements and contact needed to give a full hug. Give treats for every session and go very slowly. If you are persistent enough, your puppy will start appreciating being hugged.

Patricia McConnell suggests adding instructions on how to condition puppies to accept or even enjoy hugging in puppy classes, since this primate behavior is so strong in all humans. This may ultimately bring up generations of dogs who love (or at least tolerate) to be hugged and perhaps reduce the incidence of dog bites related to our ''primate'' behaviors.

Some Words of Caution

Do not use this approach on a dog you do not know well or a dog who has manifested aggressive/defensive behaviors upon being hugged; rather consult a dog behavior professional before trying anything on your own.

If a dog that has been used to being hugged out of the blue decides to growl, this may suggest something may be medically wrong. An ear infection may be starting or there may be something causing pain. A vet visit is in order to figure out what may be causing the problem.

Never put your face too close to an unknown dog or attempt to hug it or kiss him; many dogs dislike people invading their space and may become defensive, as dogs do not hug or kiss.

Rather allow the dog approach you first, sniff you and then if the dog appears friendly and the owner allows it, your best bet is to give a pat on the chest.

Disclaimer: if your dog exhibits aggression at any time consult with a veterinarian to rule out any medical conditions and then follow up with a dog behaviorist. Make safety your top priority and don't attempt behavior modifications programs on your own.

"Have you ever looked at your dog's face when you're hugging him? He looks like a kid who's being hugged by his grandma who has bad breath while all his friends watch and laugh.

— D. Caroline Coile, Margaret H. Bonham

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2010 Adrienne Janet Farricelli

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    • profile image

      Noelle 

      3 months ago

      OK, so if it's a new dog, or a young dog that's not used to hugging or comes with past abuse, then you have to respect their space. However, over a period of time, when hugging is associated with good things, like petting, soothing, treats, etc., the dog associates hugging with love and, with few exceptions, accept and even enjoy it. Read the signals. If they're pulling away, licking their lips, or not making eye contact, stop. My rescued pit bull started hugging US on his own. He gets on his hind legs and puts his front paws on either of your shoulders, and leans in and hugs and kisses you. He initiates it, so therefore the title of your piece is very misleading. Maybe why "some dogs" don't enjoy hugging would be more appropriate. Like people, they're all different. My other rescued female pit bull, while cuddly, isn't fond of hugs, so we respect her space. She doesn't get mad,you can just tell she'd rather not. So we pet her and talk to her instead, which she enjoys. Read up on reading your dog's body language - they just speak differently than us.

    • profile image

      Bingo 

      22 months ago

      My dog loves to hug, hold hand's, be held and purr. Its strange but awesome. Shes a pit.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      2 years ago from USA

      Carole, if this is new behavior, it's not a bad idea to have her checked out by the vet.

    • profile image

      Carole 

      2 years ago

      Never ever has Belle growled at me. Last night and just now she growled when I put my head on her right side near her head. I think it's a sign she's in pain somewhere

      I did her ears - that's fine I'm so confused and upset.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      2 years ago from USA

      There are some dogs who have been conditioned to enjoy hugs and associate them with good things. Both my Rotties now don't seem to mind hugs because they are accompanied with lots of praise and affection (and treats too!). I have conditioned them to accept hugs since I thought people may feel like doing that.The training paid off that day a mentally ill person popped out of nowhere and hugged my dog. My dog was surprised but didn't wink and I attribute it the training!

    • profile image

      Pam Davis 

      2 years ago

      My dog must be exception to the rule on hugging. She comes up to me and wraps her front legs around my leg and lays her head down and hugs. Plus wants me to tote her around when I get home..she always hugs back by laying her head on my shoulder. She doesn't want me to put her down. This is an abused 4 year old rescue. Part Pincher and part dachshund.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      5 years ago from USA

      For some dogs the simple fact of getting up and close to their owners is very rewarding, yet, this cannot be said of all dogs. Several dogs have been conditioned to love hugs because of positive experiences. It sounds like you did a great job with this girl!

    • profile image

      Jenna 

      5 years ago

      My dog (a gsd/greyhound/coyote mix) loves to be hugged. She does the jump up thing in order to be hugged. I'm actually having trouble trying to show her that jumping up to get a hug is a bad thing. She's almost two and so far she only gets that she is not to try and hug me. Also, kisses she loves to get her face up in yours to kiss you. It's weird because when I first got her she had severe aggression and dominance problems. She's now a very well rounded and affectionate dog who only hates rabbits (must be the greyhound). However, it appears that she is the one who decided that she wants to be hugged as I have never been a big hugger of dogs knowing that they can be very unreceptive to that behavior however at my job (dog groomer) I deal with dogs everyday and have seen that many dogs want to be hugged and initiate the hug!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      Hello ArF and thank you for stopping by. It could very likely be this dog has had positive associations in the past and looks forward to being hugged, some dogs though seem to enjoy more close contact with their people than others. Sounds like an awesome gal many dream of!

    • A r F profile image

      Allison 

      6 years ago

      My 8 month old American Bulldog/Whippet Mix will ask for hugs by putting her paws around my neck and squeezing. Her tail gets going so fast when she is being hugged. Never in my life have I seen a more cuddly and hug-able dog. I've only had her for 2 months so I don't know if she was taught to like hugging or if she just naturally comes by it, but it definitely seems out of the norm.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      Hi Crissytsu, it usually is a mix of nature and nurture. In other words, she may be blessed with a great temperament courtesy of her genetic makeup, but if you have been great in early socializing her with kids, then that can further -play a big role.

    • crissytsu profile image

      crissytsu 

      6 years ago from Texas

      So basically, the breed and temperment of the dog play a huge role in whether they like or dislike to be hugged? My Weimaraner is a doormat...she eats it up when anyone, even small children (who she just meets) hug her, and will let them crawl all over her while she's chewing a bone...She even let my friend's two year old daughter eat out of her dog food bowl while she was eating (this was by accident, because I never would have allowed it for fear of a getting a child bit)...Was this a product of early socialization, her breed, or temperment...or a combo of all of the above?

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      Awww.. thanks! My dogs did not like to be hugged initially but we worked on it and I teach my clients' dogs in socialization classes to accept hugs as well as you never know! Indeed, one day a kid out of nowhere came to see my Rottweiler squeezed her neck and my dog was wagging her tail. If this was another dog, things could have gone bad...

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 

      6 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      I have noticed this about dogs. Good to know that it's normal. You're awesome. I linked you to a hub I wrote about teaching my dog to lie down. I have come to your hubs on several occasions for help. Thanks!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      Thank you. Good idea to keep your fingers clasped in when offering your hand to smell, some dogs find a protruded hand a great opportunity for biting!

    • Minn.purplerose profile image

      Minn.purplerose 

      6 years ago from Minnesota

      This is a good article. It's so true, we can learn so much about body language from dogs ... language which many times applies to humans. I have never had a problem getting along with a dog. I always bend down to their level, place out my hand with fingers clasped in (so they can't bite your finger) and let them smell me. I wait for their reaction before going further with them. Once they smell me, they allow me to pet them. It may be that they smell my own dog's scent, but it's important to let a dog show their reception of you. Many children have become desensitized because of technology and forget to take time and read an animal's body language. They truly do have much to teach us.

    • profile image

      Brownie 

      7 years ago

      My dog who I believed to be the friendliest and most affectionate dog in the world started growling and snapping when I hugged or put my head close to him. I couldn't understand the sudden change. The more I tried to show him I was being friendly the less tolerant he became. This explaination gives me some hope that we can someday trust each other again...

    • otsipaku profile image

      Miina 

      7 years ago from Estonia

      Nice hub! Really enjoy the information you can get from articles here. Especially about animals. Thanks!

    • profile image

      ?????secret peep????? 

      7 years ago

      Wow!!!thanx a lot really helped.Me and my kids r gettin a boston terrier & labrador retriever.

      Cant wait :)

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      7 years ago from Wales

      I enjoy reading most articles to do with nature or animals and this one was very interesting . Here's to many more of yours to follow.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

    • GetSmart profile image

      GetSmart 

      8 years ago

      I think my dogs must have grown used to my hugs because they actually seem to enjoy them. This is very interesting. Thanks.

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Good to know this fact about dogs. I feel bad for the dog we had who was hugged to death and definitely showed some of the signs you mention, lip licking etc and we didn't know. How that poor dog tolerated us, I don't know? Thanks.

    • kblover profile image

      Brian McDowell 

      8 years ago from USA

      Wally seems not to care too much, but I can't say he "likes" it. I think he's okay if he's distracted by something else, like what the kid that's hugging him smells like LOL

    • profile image

      Mizzblk 

      8 years ago

      Yes, My dog dont like to be hugged and running away from me

    • nikitha p profile image

      nikitha p 

      8 years ago from India

      Thanks for a nice hub.

    • profile image

      Rebecca Gzz 

      8 years ago

      wow this is amazing!

      My dog growls at us all the time, but he does it in a playfull way and he has NEVER tried to bite us, so we don't take it too seriously...

      But now that I know this I understand a lot!

      We'll try to work on him, so he loves hugs as much as we do!

      thanks a lot!

    • parkercoleman profile image

      parkercoleman 

      8 years ago

      He actually likes getting his toenails clipped? You need to localized that gene! I think you must have a very agreeable dog.

    • profile image

      Donna 

      8 years ago

      My Golden Retriever LOVES to be hugged, by anyone, anytime. Of course he genuinely enjoys getting his toenails clipped and going to the vet too.

    • parkercoleman profile image

      parkercoleman 

      8 years ago

      Maybe this answers my question about breeding and substantiates alexdry's idea about dogs being bred to work and not for close human contact. Maybe we have bred the desire for close contact into some of our breeds and not into others. It would make an interesting survey to see which breeds like being hugged, which ones tolerate it, and which ones resist it. We might find the breeds we've used for work, such as working and sporting dogs, aren't so keen on it, and others like toys and non-working breeds like it!

      My personal experience with retrievers is that they don't really care much for being hugged, but put up with it for the ear scratching, belly rubbing, and chest massages.

    • profile image

      Lulu's human 

      8 years ago

      I don't have a lot of experience with other dogs, but my own 10 year old Bichon loves to be hugged!! He comes to me several times during the day, asking to be picked up and just cuddled for a while. I always indulge him, he's the perfect size for cradling in my arms and he very much enjoys it, seems to crave it actually.

    • Shawn Scarborough profile image

      Shawn Scarborough 

      8 years ago from The Lone Star State

      This is a very interesting hub. I was not aware that dogs do not like to be hugged. I have a Rottweiler that likes to be hugged, but he has been hugged since he was a puppy so I guess he is used to it.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      8 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Our pups put up with hugging to get the part they do like, the belly rubbing or ear scratching. After a while they seem to come for it naturally knowing how it ends up. Enjoyed reading this well written hub.

    • raisingme profile image

      raisingme 

      8 years ago from Fraser Valley, British Columbia

      This hub is so full of common sense I find it astounding that I never looked at this way before - of course they are uncomfortable when they are not physically or psychologically hard wired for hugging. You gave me one of those 'aduh' moments - Thank you!

    • LadyWriter profile image

      LadyWriter 

      8 years ago from UK

      Interesting hub - I've got 2 dogs (SBT dog and SBT-X bitch), the dog loves contact, as soon as I sit on the sofa he jumps up onto my lap and nudges me to pet him, nudging again if I stop - in fact he's a bit of a pain, very high-maintenance! The bitch likes the odd pat but is happiest lying by herself and if you try to give her a hug she wriggles to get away.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      8 years ago from Northern, California

      Love this hub, am linking to it from my Poodle hub. Thanks for all of your great K9 information.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      8 years ago from USA

      parker coleman; good question.. Perhaps they have not been desensitized to hugs because they were mostly used to work. We have bred dogs more to help us like to hunt, herd or guard, but they still feel intimidated by some of our gestures because perhaps not all dogs were hugged.. it could also be dogs were not treated that well many years ago..like they were just ''used'' and the occasional hug was not enough to be carried on...just as our dogs still want to chase prey even though we are feeding them for many years...Who know maybe in another thousand years dogs will come to us asking for a hug! just a supposition..

    • parkercoleman profile image

      parkercoleman 

      8 years ago

      I like this topic and I've wondered about it myself. Thinking it through further, though, I have to ask: Since dogs have evolved with us through the ages, why is it this instinct didn't evolve as well? Why is it since we love to hug so much, as we bred dogs through time, we didn't "design" this desire into them? God knows we've bred every other kind of behavior into our breeds. Just some food for thought. Thanks for an enlightening and thought provoking topic!

    • rainmaker15002 profile image

      rainmaker15002 

      8 years ago from Greensburg, PA

      My Boston Terrier Obie lubs to be hugged! he told me its truuuuue!! Haha just kidding... good hub.

    • ocbill profile image

      ocbill 

      8 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      I remember this, yet they loved to be pet (when approached properly, of course)

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Dapples 

      8 years ago from Just Arizona Now

      Interesting information. Patricia McConnell's explanation where she lumps us with monkeys and apes is interesting, too, but we are a totally different creature than an ape or monkey.

      As for some dogs not liking to be hugged, I found that to be a unique topic you chose to explore. My cat is like that, but she will put her head into the palm of my hand (unbidden) to be petted as soon as she sees I'm ready to go to sleep.

    • valeriebelew profile image

      valeriebelew 

      8 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

      Very interesting info. I've never had any of my dogs growl at me, but I'm more likely to pet them or rub behind their ears. Mine have a great deal of energy, and don't want to stay still that long anyhow. (:v

    • profile image

      kellieshell 

      8 years ago

      thanks, this explains a lot. very helpful.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      8 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      I learned. Thanks for sharing. Great hub!

    • grejotte profile image

      Anne-Marie 

      8 years ago from Montreal

      Yes very interesting! I went to a seminar with wolves, and we were told not to put our arms on their chest because they would feel restrainted.

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 

      8 years ago from Scotland

      Interesting Hub alexadry

      We make assumptions about animals all the time. I like the way you explained the behavioural origins of the hug.

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