Do dogs like hugs? We sure like hugging them, but can you be sure your pup really understands what you mean by a hug, and whether it’s welcome? Hugs aren’t a normal part of dogs’ behavior, and most pets tolerate an embrace rather than enjoy it. So if you want to show your dog you love them, and be understood, there are better ways to do it. But that isn’t to say that cozying up to each other is off the cards completely. Dogs are sociable animals and lots of them welcome physical contact in specific situations. So in this article we’ll also take a look at how to ‘hug’ your dog in a way that suits you both.
- How do dogs show affection?
- Do dogs like hugs?
- Interpreting how your dog feels about hugs
- Tips for mutually satisfying snuggles
How do dogs show affection?
Dogs are social animals, used to living in a family unit. And that means they instinctively know how use affectionate behavior to reinforce social ties. Treating one another with affection keeps the family unit emotionally bonded to one another, and invested in each others’ survival. It also reduces stress and promotes well-being among family members. Dogs love to engage and interact with other members of their household, and most puppy parents would agree that’s reflected in the experience of owning one. But can you correctly recognize which canine behaviors are gestures of affection?
Typical ways dogs display affection include:
- Greeting you with a tail-wag that sways their hips and wiggles their whole body.
- Leaning into you or against you, for example whilst resting or sleeping.
- Making or seeking physical contact, for example by jumping up, licking your face, nudging you with their nose, or resting their paws on you.
- Keeping their resting gaze focused on you.
- Carrying around a memento of you, like an old slipper or worn sweater.
- Checking up on you if you’ve been hanging out in different rooms for a while.
Do dogs like hugs?
So how does hugging fit in? Wrapping their arms around each other isn’t a normal part of how dogs show affection. For a start, they don’t have arms! And the range of motion in their shoulders means their front legs are physically incapable of wrapping around something in the same way as a human hug.
In other words, hugs as we give them aren’t something dogs ‘do’. Which means they don’t instinctively recognize them as acts of love either. In fact, being wrapped up in an embrace can feel pretty alien and unpleasant for a dog. Having their movement restricted can feel uncomfortable, and even threatening.
Interpreting how your dog feels about hugs
Even though it doesn’t come naturally to them, lots of socially confident, eager-to-please dogs will tolerate a hug. Some dogs even enjoy them. In both cases it’s because they have learned to associate the hug with something genuinely enjoyable for them happening at the same time or straight after. For example receiving a food treat, being allowed to put their paws on you, or getting to lick your face.
Signs your dogs doesn’t enjoy being hugged include:
- Backing away from you. This couldn’t be a clearer sign that they do not consent to your cuddle!
- Stiff posture. If your dog goes rigid when you go in for a hug, it’s another sure sign that they don’t like what’s happening, and they’re counting the seconds until it’s over.
- Shaking afterwards. If your dog does a big shake after a hug, it’s because the hug left them feeling icky. Shaking is a stress-relief mechanism for dogs, to diffuse feelings of discomfort.
- Yawning afterwards. Like shaking, yawning is a way for dogs to physically ‘let go’ of unwelcome emotions, like stress or discomfort.
- Giving you whale-eye. Whale eye is the eloquent expression used for when dogs try to simultaneously turn their head away from you, but keep you in sight, so that the whites of their eyes show. This action is a combination of appeasement to avoid trouble (turning their head away) and anxiety about what you might do next (keeping their eyes on you).
On the other hand, some signs your dog is at ease being hugged are:
- Keeping a relaxed body posture.
- Having a relaxed, ‘soft’ facial expression.
- Showing you one of their signs of affection at the same time, like leaning into your or licking your face.
If my dog wags his tail does it mean he likes it?
Lots of people assume that tail wagging is an unambiguous sign that a dog is happy and enjoying themselves. But this isn’t the case. If their tail is held low (close to or between their legs) and wagging in stiff, short, jerky motions, it’s a signal of anxiety or reluctance to be involved in whatever is happening at that moment. On the other hand, a dog who’s holding their tail out from their body and wagging it with big sweeps that sway their hips as well is genuinely enjoying the moment.
Tips for mutually satisfying snuggles
If your dog doesn’t like having arms wrapped around them, don’t try to force hugs on them. Cuddling your dog if they don’t like it can discourage them from getting close to you at all. Not only does this feel sad, but it can have some serious practical ramifications. For example, they might start stopping short of your reach when you use your recall cue.
But, lots of dog owners report that their dogs do love snuggling up to them. And that’s great! The key to a successful hug with you dog is to always let it happen on their terms. In the photos accompanying this article you can see young Labrador Bonnie choosing to cozy up to a lucky member of her human family. He’s staying seated in one place and position, and Bonnie’s face is relaxed as she climbs onto his lap and leans her body weight into his to enjoy a scratch under the ear. Whilst her human pal is resting his hands on her, no pressure is being used to keep her in place, and she is free to leave whenever she’s ready (although it doesn’t look like that’s going to be any time soon!)
Rules of canine cuddles
How to make sure a hug is happening on your dog’s terms:
- Let them approach you.
- Don’t use force.
- Let them leave whenever they want.
Lots of dogs enjoy physical contact when they’re resting. It provides warmth, means they’ll know right away if you move, and cements the emotional bond between you. Be patient about learning what your dog enjoys, and then celebrate it. A dog who wants to sit on your foot loves you just as much as the neighbor’s dog who jumps into their lap. And they’ll appreciate you all the more for not forcing hugs on them.
Even if you and your dog love to share a hug, always remember, safety first. Never try to hug an unfamiliar dog, and don’t let your children hug them either. Even if your own dog is content to be cuddled by you, don’t let unfamiliar children hug them.
Do dogs like hugs? Summary
Dogs don’t understand hugs the same way we do. They don’t naturally enjoy them, but they might learn embrace the moment if they learn to associate it with something good happening. It’s also likely that they do genuinely enjoy physical contact with you, provided they can access it on their own terms. Let us know how you and your dog share an affectionate moment using the comments box down below!
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website