A lot of people like their dogs to cuddle with them at night. Over the past 10 years, statistics have shown that more individuals have been purchasing larger breeds of dogs so that they have a sense of security and safety while spending time at home. A common part of this is your dog spending time close to you, physically. This can be during sleep at night, or even when you are just reading a book in the middle of the afternoon. So, why is it that some dogs are more keen on this affection than others? Is it something innate, or can they be trained to enjoy your “close proximity company?”
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The Root of the Behavior
One of the most obvious reasons your dog may cuddle is as a protective measure. If you are having a particularly bad bout of the flu or perhaps suffering over a recent breakup, your dog might be cuddling with you as a way to show you affection and support. Dogs have a great intuition developed over thousands of years of living with human beings, so if you're not in the best place they can almost certainly sense it. Another reason for snuggling is closely related to your dog's DNA, especially if you own a breed that specializes in cold weather such as an Alaskan Husky or other type of so-called sled dog. What we consider cuddling was actually a great mechanism for cold weather survival in ages past, and this behavior still pops up today in a lot of breeds. So, how about dogs that are less than excited about how close you're getting to them? It turns out, this is actually pretty common. Dogs are very much physical communicators, and when you embrace them or keep them restricted to a specific space it can take away what they view as crucial communication skills.
The underlying factor here is really the core nature of your canine. Treating your dog like a child or another human isn't always going to elicit the reaction you're looking for because that's not how your dog is designed. Canines are built for fast running, which makes them cursorial mammals. What this basically boils down to is that, when confronted by danger or stress, your dog needs to run first and ask questions later. A lot of animal behaviorists think that keeping your dog confined or restricted like this can stress them out, and eventually may even lead to more aggressive behaviors. This can be especially prevalent when young children are interacting with your dog. Children don't have the same common sense boundaries with canines that we do as adults, so it's crucial that you teach any kids playing around your dog how to act with them.
Encouraging the Behavior
Another perspective on this comes from Dr. Patricia McConnell, a doctor specializing in animal behaviors. She claims that if you observe socialization between dogs, often times they will pin each other down. This is a sign of dominance if not flat out aggression. The cuddling behaviors you try to engage in with your dog may actually mimic this dominant trait that exists in your dog, and can lead to possible power struggles later on at home. Unfortunately, not a lot of science exists to explain these behaviors away completely. Statistics have shown that dog bites are far more common when you get in close with a dog and invade their personal space. But objectively, this seems like common sense more than the kind of data collected by two major studies. Dogs are going to react adversely when you corner them in any way. This is a fact that multiple animal behaviorists agree upon. A simple way to avoid this is to understand your dog's stressors and circumvent them whenever possible. So how can you come to understand your dog’s behaviors? The advice seems to be varied at best. Generally speaking, watching outside factors will aid you in discerning how your canine views you and your interactions.
Other Solutions and Considerations
So what about those people who are just determined to get their dog to become a cuddler? The answer is training, training, training! It is entirely possible to get a generally shy dog to accept cuddling situations with enough provocation and incentive to do so. Your dog needs to realize that there is reward involved in getting close to you, in whatever way you can get that across. Feeding your canine by hand is a popular method for this, but plenty of dogs respond just as well to good old belly rubs. Make sure you give them excessive attention around the desired behavior, otherwise it's much less likely to take hold.
While it seems like physical affection between dog and owner has been somewhat ignored by scholars, there exists plenty of individual testimony support the positive nature of this behavior. So if you’re someone who really wants a solitary dog to become a cuddler, let them do it on their own terms while reinforcing the behavior when possible. You just might find out that the two of you are as snug as a bug in a rug!