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Why Dogs Do Not Like to Be Hugged

A puppy sending ''stress signals''

dogs do not understand hugs and kisses, alexadry all rights reserved
dogs do not understand hugs and kisses, alexadry all rights reserved

Humans appear to love to hug anybody they love: we hug our spouses, we hug our kids, we ultimately hug anybody we ultimately 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.

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 its uneasiness in being hugged by licking it lips, turning its 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 escalate to a snarl (a growl with a nice teeth display) or worse, a bite.

Dogs that bite without a warning are often dogs that 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 its next line of defense which is the bite. A growl can therefore turn out being a life saver despite it is unpleasant to hear.

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 that humans and primates appreciate ventral to ventral (chest to chest) contact because it may bring back unconscious feelings of pleasure associated with nursing.

Dogs do not have this sort of positive association therefore they do not by nature appreciate this form of contact. Dogs may be conditioned to appreciate hugs though by associating it with good things such as tasty treats or pleasant scratches behind the ears. 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.

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 or a straightforward bite.

So should you avoid giving your dog hugs all together? You can work on de-sensitizing your dog by counterconditioning him. Start by touching him 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 dog will start appreciating being hugged. Do not use this approach on a dog who has manifested aggressive/defensive behaviors upon being hugged;rather consult a dog trainer/behaviorist before trying anything on your own.

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.

Never put your face too close an unknown dog or attempt to hug it or kiss it; 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.

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Comments 41 comments

Shinkicker profile image

Shinkicker 6 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.


grejotte profile image

grejotte 6 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.


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

I learned. Thanks for sharing. Great hub!


kellieshell 6 years ago

thanks, this explains a lot. very helpful.


valeriebelew profile image

valeriebelew 6 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


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona

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.


ocbill profile image

ocbill 6 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

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


rainmaker15002 profile image

rainmaker15002 6 years ago from Greensburg, PA

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


parkercoleman profile image

parkercoleman 6 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!


alexadry profile image

alexadry 6 years ago from USA Author

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..


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 6 years ago from Northern, California

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


LadyWriter profile image

LadyWriter 6 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.


raisingme profile image

raisingme 6 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!


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from 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.


Shawn Scarborough profile image

Shawn Scarborough 6 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.


Lulu's human 6 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.


parkercoleman profile image

parkercoleman 6 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.


Donna 6 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 6 years ago

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


Rebecca Gzz 6 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!


nikitha p profile image

nikitha p 6 years ago from India

Thanks for a nice hub.


Mizzblk 5 years ago

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


kblover profile image

kblover 5 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


chspublish profile image

chspublish 5 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.


GetSmart profile image

GetSmart 5 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.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 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.


?????secret peep????? 5 years ago

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

Cant wait :)


otsipaku profile image

otsipaku 5 years ago from Estonia

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


Brownie 4 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...


Minn.purplerose profile image

Minn.purplerose 4 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.


alexadry profile image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

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!


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 4 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 image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

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...


crissytsu profile image

crissytsu 4 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 image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

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.


A r F profile image

A r F 4 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 image

alexadry 4 years ago from USA Author

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!


Jenna 3 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 image

alexadry 3 years ago from USA Author

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!


Pam Davis 5 months 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 image

alexadry 5 months ago from USA Author

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!

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