Are You A Hugger? Some Dogs Prefer You Back Off!

Mary Simpson
by Mary Simpson

When it comes to snuggling your pet, the language of love can differ.

Photo Credit: fongleon356 /

With all the news stories about dog aggression, one has to wonder whether the issue is reaching a fever pitch due to the constant, sensationalistic press or if it’s down to newer pet owners not reading the signals being sent.

I mean, from the time we were young, we were taught to never try to pet a dog that we don’t know. We all remember that cautionary training of always putting your hand out, letting him sniff, and never trying to pat their head lest they think you’re about to hit them. Above all, never initiate contact without first receiving permission from said dog’s human companion.

But what if the dog in question, is your pet? I mean, I nuzzle and snuggle my dogs all the time… sometimes pulling them over to receive a little unsolicited affection, just because. And what better way to get down to business than going nose to nose with the doggo when a serious conversation is in order: like identifying who ate all the cat food?

Well, the guru of all things “dog”, the American Kennel Club (AKC) offers up some advice to well-meaning pet parents and that’s “back off”. Per the AKC, humans and dogs speak different languages and use different behaviors to communicate. Dogs sniff crotches, we shake hands –different, right? And, if the two of you are not on the same page when it comes to hugging, your little buddy can become sufficiently stressed that he’ll react in a way you weren’t expecting. Including growls and bites.

Now, you may argue that hugging is how humans show affection, so why not pay it forward to those we consider our fur-kids? While we can all agree that taking this approach to someone else’s dog is a no-no, it should never be assumed that your little buddy is totally okay with it.

Per the experts at AKC, “When you hug a dog, they don’t understand what you’re trying to say. In fact, you’re essentially trapping them. They can’t get away from anything that scares them or makes them uncomfortable while in your arms.”

This philosophy is supported by psychologist Stanely Coren, dog expert and author of such books as The Intelligence of Dogs and The Modern Dog. Coren did an informal study, assembling 250 random internet images of dogs wrapped tight in the arms of their family members. Criteria for choosing the pictures included that it had to be a full-face image of the dog in what was considered a low-stress situation. Pictures scored whether the dog appeared neutral, relaxed/at ease, or showing one or more signs of stress. Believe it or not, 81% of the images Coren reviewed indicated the pet showed one or more signs of being stressed. This, despite being held by someone from his human pack.

The conclusion? Next time you go in for a big hug, watch your pet’s reaction for signs of stress. Do they look away? Lick their lips? Stiffen up? Pull the ears back? We know our intent is to show nothing but love and affection, but in dog-speak, that may not be the message that’s being received.

Mary Simpson
Mary Simpson

Sharing space with three seriously judgy Schnoodles and a feline who prefers to be left alone. #LivingMyBestLife

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