Dogs have been our companions for the longest times, and over the centuries, they have learned to pick up cues and learn from our behavior. This is exactly why we can have service dogs, not just for blind individuals, but for people with various disabilities.
So, a dog can tell when you are scared, what you need, whether you will have an anxiety attack, but can a dog tell what a hug means?
Have you ever, in a moment of sheer joy, hugged your dog? Did you ever wonder how they feel about a hug? A lot of it can be told by paying close attention to your dog’s reaction when you hug them.
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Signs Dogs Show While Being Hugged
When it comes to hugs, this is currently a hot topic: many dog owners swear that their dogs love hugs, while some dog behaviorists claim that dogs will become stressed - even agitated when hugged. Here are the most prominent signs a dog might exhibit when hugged:
Tail Wagging – Many dog owners associate tail wagging with a happy dog. This isn’t true, however. If your dog wags his tail slowly, somewhat stiffly, it means that they are alert, not happy. If your dog tucks their tail and wags, they are showing you submission, and are nervous. Outside of this, happy tail wagging is full of energy and combines with other signs so you know it is positive.
Ear Position – Dogs will change the shape and position of their ears according to their current mood, so this is a great indicator of whether your dog actually enjoys a hug or not. If the ears are facing forward and are pointing upwards, they are either aggressive or interested. If they are flat, pulled back, they are submissive and fearful.
Staring – when you hug your dog, check where they are looking. Are they looking at you or away from you? If your dog is looking away from you, you can see the whites of their eyes, they are not enjoying the hug. They are enduring it.
Growling – a growl is a very clear sign that the dog is not enjoying the situation, they feel threatened and if the situation continues, they will strike. Never hug a dog that reacts with growling, as this might lead to very serious injuries. This behavior is rare, and depends on many factors, such as the dog’s background and overall treatment they are getting from their owners.
- Wag tail
- Dropped Ears
- Ears back
- Ears up
- Exitedly wagging their tale
- Not shying away
- Hugging back on command
- Showing calm body tension
History of Dog Hugging
When looking at this issue from the evolutionary perspective, dogs shouldn’t really have a preference for hugs. Sure, their ancestors slept in snug dens and were used to a confined space, but being overwhelmed by another member of the pack wasn’t tolerated, and often resulted in fighting back.
Now, our dogs are quite different from their wolf ancestors, but there are traits that have prevailed throughout the whole domestication process. One instinct that prevailed is to run away when scared or feeling endangered. If there’s something that’s keeping them from running away, they will fight to get the chance.
This is why hugs are such a controversial topic when it comes to dogs. Even though there are dogs that don’t mind hugs and some might even enjoy them, it seems that the vast majority of dogs don’t enjoy them as much as we do. They take away their freedom of movement, and as such, they might become nervous or anxious.
Science of Dogs Sensing Hugs
A few years ago, a bold new statement was making the headlines: “Don’t hug your dog, he hates it.” There have been numerous outlets that published the story about a scientific study that explained that dogs do indeed dislike hugs and the reason why they tolerate them.
Even though many dog owners took this information to heart and refrained from hugging their canines, the fact of the matter is that this was widely reported as a study, but it was, in fact, an opinion editorial published in the Psychology Today magazine, and done by just one researcher!
This doesn’t mean that they were wrong, but it’s important to mention that this wasn’t a study, but an opinion based on behavioral cues (visible and subtle ones) of dogs that were hugged. This opinion was formed by analyzing pictures of dogs being hugged.
Since this project wasn’t peer-reviewed, and there was lacking information on what kind data was gathered and how it was gathered, it’s hard to come to any solid conclusions. This is, however, a step in the right direction, as it will prompt, not only dog owners, but researchers, to study the behavior of dogs in greater detail and learn the subtle cues your dog might be giving you when they feel uncomfortable.
While there is no consensus on the whole “hug your dog” issue, scientists and behaviorists urge dog owners to learn behavioral cues of their dogs in order to determine whether their dog is stressed out, threatened, scared, or a relaxed and easygoing pooch.
Training Dogs to Become More "Huggable"
Now, there are also dogs that won’t mind hugs. And while your dog might tolerate hugs from you as his owner, and even doesn’t mind all the hugs from your kids, they might react completely different when a stranger tries to do this. Training can be done in the event you want to make sure your dog is more susceptible to touching, for example, if you have children or a lifestyle need to.
Service dogs, for example, are trained to pick up various cues and help their owners, whether they need help with finding a way or help with getting through a panic attack. As such, service dogs have learned to endure a lot of touching in order to be helpful to their humans.
The key ways to train your dog to be receptive to touch is to do these things:
- Take it slow
- Avoid training with children initially until you have a better understanding of your dog's reaction.
- Start with simple stroking, then begin putting a little pressure on one side before doing the same on the other.
- Crate training can help with the escape-fear aspect, as long as your dog doesn't suffer from claustrophobia.
Just remember to look for telltale signs your dog might be under stress when you hug them, because as their evolutionary greeting differs considerably from ours, they might not be as comfortable as you think.
Safety Tips for Hugging Your Dog:
Any dog will lash out when threatened, so always make sure you read their body language.
If your dog doesn't like hugs, make other people aware, particularly if they spend time around children.
Never hug a strangers dog, no matter how friendly they seem, without first discussing with the owner.