Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
Why Does My Dog Growl When I Hug Her?
Humans love to hug those they love; we hug our spouses, our kids, and anybody we care about. It comes naturally, therefore, to want to extend our arms and hug our dogs, as well. Many dogs take this well—hey have become 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.
Signs of Stress a Dog May Display
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 discomfort, 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.
Why Humans Need to Hug
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.
How to Teach a Dog to Like 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
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 16, 2020:
Thanks for posting your thoughts.
Not sure about what type of dogs you own (they must be very tolerant) as my own Rotties always hated other dogs placing their paws on their shoulders (and even among themselves) and I know other dogs this way as paws on the shoulder may be interpreted as a precursor to mounting and this may even trigger fights if done to the wrong type of dog.
Punishing a dog for peeing when you are out of the home leads to a dog who is confused because he will never know what he is being punished for since he likely peed a long while ago. Most likely the dog thinks he is being punished for what he is doing at the moment you enter the door (looking at you, greeting you). Research has found that dogs best understand if a reward is delivered within half a second of the behavior so the same goes with punishment.
If your dog pees when you are out, he's not doing so in spite. It could just be a sign of separation anxiety or just urine marking.
I initially trained my Rottweilers using punishment-based methods, something I will regret all my life. (I am a cross-over trainer). Not that I beat them, but I was always thinking I had to show them who is the boss.
Fortunately right around their adolescence., when I enrolled in dog trainer school, I embraced reward-based training and never looked back. The growling diminished dramatically, because my dogs no longer saw me as somebody who wanted to challenge them/ boss them around-which only created anxiety.
With my female Rottie, I could hug her with no problem. She was just blessed with this sweet personality. Crazy for kids, crazy for seniors. She would have made a perfect therapy dog. If I stopped hugging her, she would be asking me for more. She just had this wonderful disposition.
You are right that counterconditioning requires maintenance. With my male Rottie, he needed counterconditioning because he just sort of tolerated hugs, let's say, so I always made sure to give him something good. The big test day arrived when a guy with Down syndrome walking down the road stopped by and out of nowhere gave him this bear hug and squeezed and I swear I saw my dog's eyes almost popping out. Fortunately, we had worked on this many times so he was prepared and was looking at me for his treat rather than thinking about reacting-which could have been a catastrophe with this person's face so close to his.
cathymikebd on January 16, 2020:
I agree with and disagree with this article. Dogs have different approaches to hugs, the breeds that are innate with protection are the ones that will have the biggest issues with hugs. Why? Because predators naturally go in for the neck for kills, the hind end quarters and the neck. The dogs instinct is to react. Some dogs can be ignored for awhile and never do it again, others need other methods. You need to figure out your own dog. As for hands on dogs like paws, dogs put their paws over other dogs all the time, totally disagree with that statement. Growls are always a warning of aggression, whether the aggression is because of fear, confusion, misunderstanding...bottom line is its aggression, no matter the topic that got them there. Also if you find a way to desensitize your dog to hugs, you need to do this always, like braces, if you stop, then it will stop working. Also I disagree with no punishment. Punishment depends on the circumstance. I don't believe in beating because that is like a bar fight, no one wins. But if my dog growls because I hug him, I back off, then hug him with treats in my hand to desensitize. If my dog growls because he pees on something in the house, when I am gone all day, then he gets punished. Because he is standing up to my authority. Punishment is him going out and me saying no over and over. I have raised dogs all my life, in my 50's now, trained them for AKC events. I breed Rottweilers, have 4, with the dad being 155 pounds, mom 95 pounds and 2 others at 70 pounds. I have NEVER been bit. My male is the only one that growls off and on, depending if I left for the day and I believe he gets anxious, shows me his disapproval by peeing, then I scold then he growls. He pees inside about 3 times a year. I stay at home. I never hug my dogs from face to face, always from above. Also dogs bite kids because staring another animal down is a sign of aggression, that is why kids get bit. Watch animals in the wild hunker down at each other and stare. As for all the studies, there are millions of them, all with a different outlook. Also most every dog will start to challenge authority starting at 9 months and usually lasting till 14 months. It is during this time another training starts, who is boss in the house.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 05, 2019:
Jami, so sorry your dog bit you when you hugged him. Actually, dominance is something that has been debunked (just Google dog dominance/alpha theory myth), most dogs who show aggression do so because they are fearful/uncomfortable.
Jami on November 05, 2019:
Me and my dog are very affectionate with one another and I've hugged him in the past but this past weekend I hugged him and he came at me and bit me. Very upset of this behavior but I get they just don't like certain things. I just never had a dog who behaved like this. I also believe it's a dominant thing. I should have showed him who was boss when he was young putting him in his place
Layla on October 17, 2019:
I love this! Many people don't understand that dogs may not like certain things! I have a big dog named Zeus and a little doggy named Thor! They both like hugs! Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Much love to your dog/dogs, you and your family!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 14, 2019:
Kevin, so sorry you find this article stupid. Call it whatever you want but studies have shown that bending over a dog, putting the face close to the dog's face and making eye contact (all behaviors taking place when hugging a dog), often led to bites directed towards the central area of the face.
Children are common victims of these bites. Perhaps I may know dogs too well (contrary to too little, have you ever thought it that way?) and this may cause me to be more biased since I have worked on cases of dog aggression where dogs were biting children and people for invading their space bubbles, but I can tell you that these cases are far from being nice and they are not that rare either.
Glad to hear your dogs have never responded bad to your hugs, and nor did your friend's dogs. However, just because a dog doesn't bite, doesn't mean he or she is 100 percent fine with the interaction and doesn't mean the dog will be forever stay that way. Some dogs may react if they happen to have ear pain or not feeling well one day.
Also, just because you don't know any dogs who bite as a result of being hugged, doesn't mean all dogs are OK with that. Your statement is the equivalent of me saying that just because I don't have diabetes and don't know anybody close to me that has this disease, means that diabetes doesn't exist.
The proof is in the pudding though, ask many dog professionals and they'll tell you what I have written in the article. Heck, you can even read the comments here, and you'll find several instances of dogs who don't tolerate hugs. I am leaving you with a link to the study evaluating 132 incidents of bites to the face, for further elucidation. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/...
Noelle on December 06, 2018:
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.
Bingo on May 28, 2017:
My dog loves to hug, hold hand's, be held and purr. Its strange but awesome. Shes a pit.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 24, 2017:
Carole, if this is new behavior, it's not a bad idea to have her checked out by the vet.
Carole on February 23, 2017:
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.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 17, 2016:
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!
Pam Davis on June 14, 2016:
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.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 12, 2013:
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!
Jenna on April 12, 2013:
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!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 31, 2012:
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!
Allison on October 31, 2012:
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.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 12, 2012:
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 from Texas on October 12, 2012:
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?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 17, 2012:
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 from Arkansas, USA on August 16, 2012:
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!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 23, 2012:
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 from Minnesota on July 23, 2012:
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.
Brownie on December 21, 2011:
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...
Miina from Estonia on December 01, 2011:
Nice hub! Really enjoy the information you can get from articles here. Especially about animals. Thanks!
?????secret peep????? on November 25, 2011:
Wow!!!thanx a lot really helped.Me and my kids r gettin a boston terrier & labrador retriever.
Cant wait :)
Eiddwen from Wales on September 14, 2011:
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.
GetSmart on March 01, 2011:
I think my dogs must have grown used to my hugs because they actually seem to enjoy them. This is very interesting. Thanks.
chspublish from Ireland on December 20, 2010:
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.
Brian McDowell from USA on December 16, 2010:
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
Mizzblk on December 16, 2010:
Yes, My dog dont like to be hugged and running away from me
nikitha p from India on November 02, 2010:
Thanks for a nice hub.
Rebecca Gzz on October 18, 2010:
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 on August 30, 2010:
He actually likes getting his toenails clipped? You need to localized that gene! I think you must have a very agreeable dog.
Donna on August 30, 2010:
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 on August 27, 2010:
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.
Lulu's human on August 19, 2010:
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 from The Lone Star State on August 17, 2010:
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.
Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on August 17, 2010:
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 from Fraser Valley, British Columbia on August 12, 2010:
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 from UK on August 05, 2010:
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.
India Arnold from Northern, California on August 05, 2010:
Love this hub, am linking to it from my Poodle hub. Thanks for all of your great K9 information.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 05, 2010:
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 on August 04, 2010:
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 from Greensburg, PA on August 04, 2010:
My Boston Terrier Obie lubs to be hugged! he told me its truuuuue!! Haha just kidding... good hub.
ocbill from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice on August 02, 2010:
I remember this, yet they loved to be pet (when approached properly, of course)
Pamela Dapples from From Canada to Hawaii and now In Arizona. on August 01, 2010:
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 from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA on August 01, 2010:
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
kellieshell on August 01, 2010:
thanks, this explains a lot. very helpful.
Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on August 01, 2010:
I learned. Thanks for sharing. Great hub!
Anne-Marie from Montreal on August 01, 2010:
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 from Scotland on August 01, 2010:
Interesting Hub alexadry
We make assumptions about animals all the time. I like the way you explained the behavioural origins of the hug.