Why Dogs Do Not Like to Be Hugged
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 ''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 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 it 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. Instead, 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.
Instead, 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.
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 Farricelli