Dogs are a very affectionate species that actively thrive on having company, and that are very physical in terms of their need for closeness and affection. The fact that dogs are so loving is a huge part of their appeal, and one of the main rewards of dog ownership for most of us too.
We all of course try to show our dogs affection just as much as dogs do to us; albeit it is wise to ensure that your dog doesn’t become overly clingy or unable to be left alone, as this does them a great disservice.
However, dogs and humans are of course different species; and we have not only different anatomies, but also different thought processes and evolutionary experiences, which mean that how we act, react, and understand things are often different too.
For instance, eye contact is a great example of this; for humans, evading eye contact is the height of bad manners and is often read as deceitful. For dogs, direct eye contact is incredibly rude, and read as a challenge or assertion of dominance.
This means that the ways that humans and dogs give and receive affection is different too; and there is a reasonable amount of confusion and misunderstanding in terms of how well we and dogs understand each other in this respect. As humans, we tend to think that dogs understand and read things in the same ways we do, when of course they don’t.
This applies to how we demonstrate physical affection for our dogs just as much as it applies to other areas of our interactions; and one of the most commonly misunderstood ways this plays out is when it comes to hugging dogs. Many dog owners hug their dogs all the time, and feel that this is a totally natural way of showing the dog their affection, that the dog could not possibly misunderstand.
However, dogs don’t have the same frame of reference for things as we do – so, do dogs like being hugged? The simple answer to this is no. In this article we’ll explain how dogs interpret hugs, why dogs don’t really like being hugged, and talk more about if it’s ok to hug dogs. Read on to learn more.
Starting with the basics… Do dogs like hugs? No. Dogs don’t have the same physical anatomy as us, with arms with the same wide range of movement and so a hug in the human sense isn’t an action a dog can perform in the same way we can.
This means that a hug, and the process of giving a hug like humans do, is outside of your dog’s frame of reference, and this means that the actual meaning of a hug – which might be clear to us as people – is lost on dogs.
Ultimately, they don’t understand what is meant by your hug, and interpret this human action in canine terms… And how they interpret hugs isn’t at all how we mean them!
So, how do dogs feel about hugs? Confined. Pinned down. Restricted. Dogs read hugs as being confined or physically restricted, and so, dominated. Only a person (or animal) larger and more powerful than the dog could physically confine them in this way, but a person who is not physically large enough to confine a dog but who is the dog’s leader and alpha will be respected enough by the dog for the dog to permit them to do this, even if they don’t like it.
This means that when you hug your dog – even if they appear to enjoy it or don’t react – they’re feeling restricted and dominated. They may well take the hug without a fuss, as they yield to you as their leader; and they might very much enjoy physical affection and closeness. But the hug itself is not something your dog enjoys.
As mentioned, dogs don’t and can’t hug in the same way that people do, but some dogs do deliver the nearest thing they can to a hug, using one of their front legs to clasp you to them and hold you against them. That being the case, does this mean that some dogs do like hugs?
Well, no. When your dog does this, they are essentially restricting and asserting dominance over you in their minds, not showing love in the pure sense; and if they do this to you after or when you hug them in particular, they’re not showing you love back, they’re trying to achieve balance or reject the dominance your hug is read as to them.
Dogs don’t understand hugs, don’t read them in the same way that we do, and often, actively dislike them; they tolerate them at best. So it’s not ok to hug your dog in this respect, because it’s not something dogs like or that benefits them.
This is a bit of a tricky one. Some dogs are so well trained and conditioned and nicely mannered that no matter what you did to them and even if you actually hurt them repeatedly, they would never respond with aggression. However, the factors that come together when you hug your dog – your dog is restricted, feels dominated, and you are in close contact with them and potentially, with your face near to theirs – all mean that hugging a dog is potentially unsafe.
This is particularly true if the dog is not one you know very well, but even if you’ve hugged your dog hundreds of times, one day you might just catch them in the wrong mood or otherwise trigger a bad response in them that may result in them snapping.
It is a far better idea to pat your dog and show them how much you love them in other ways instead; ones that your dog can interpret and translate accurately.