February 16, 2019
By LG Nixon
As pet owners, most of you probably have stories to share of you and your
dog enjoying a hug, or their crazy antics as they actively seek hugs.
Recently, I read several articles on how dogs, being canids, don’t show
affection to another dog through hugs. The experts say they have legs, not arms,
and do not use them to hug another dog, except to show dominance over the other
canine. While I admit this is generally true, when dogs interact with humans, who
are natural huggers, they can tell the difference between a human and another
canine. No, really they can.
That’s not to say our propensity to hug our pets doesn’t cause them a little
discomfort. Just as each of us have our own unique personalities, traits, and faults,
our pets do, too. Some dogs enjoy getting hugs, while others not so much, and
that’s okay. It’s their personality, or perhaps an experience which has shaped their
response. You just need to find another way to “hug” your buddy without causing
The dog experts at AKC.org believe dogs, in general, do not like hugs.
Wrapping a dog in a tight hug may initiate a fight/flight response, and the results
can be disastrous. Dogs are highly sensitive, picking up on the anxiety or
excitability of their companions and this can initiate the fight/flight response.
A dog is a pack animal with a natural instinct to fight or flight in a stressful
situation. In the wild, a canine group would huddle together, sometimes their flanks
pressed against one another, indicating eminent danger. A group of red fox cubs I
was photographing reacted in this manner with their little bums pressed against
each other as they huddled together, frightened by the clicking sound of the
camera’s auto-focus. Fight response.
Tebow had been abused and abandoned. After living with him for awhile, we
determined he did not like any kind of excitement, picking up on my anxiety or
animation, and perceiving it as bad, he would leave the room. He was in the yard
with me one afternoon when I received a phone call and my anxiety ramped up. He
left, taking his ball with him. Flight response. To help him realize he was not in
any danger, I taught him to give me a hug and a kiss whenever I got overly excited.
Soon, it became his job to “calm” me down. He never left home again, and I
received a lot of sloppy kisses and hugs from that boy.
The helpful people over at petful.com have an informative article recapping
an investigation concluded by Stanley Coren PHD., DSc, FRSC from the
University of British Columbia. He has written numerous books on dogs and
psychology, one of which you may be familiar with, “How To Speak Dog.” In his
study, he looked at 250 photos of people hugging dogs, and analyzed the dogs
reaction. His conclusion was 81% of the dogs showed signs of distress.
Classic signs of distress or discomfort can include:
*Showing the whites of the eyes
*Leaning or turning away from the affection
*Lip licking or smacking
*Avoiding eye contact
*Being stiff or unrelaxed
These reactions indicate your pet may be uncomfortable or distressed.
Children should be taught to recognize these reactions. A child should never
approach a strange or unfamiliar dog, no matter how friendly and cuddly the
animal may appear. After all, how comfortable would you be if a stranger came
running up to you and smothered you in a hug? Children should only approach pets
whom they know, and even then with caution, and they should never place their
face next to the dog’s face in case their hug is misinterpreted.
This does not mean we shouldn’t hug our pets, but we should offer them an
acceptable “hug,” one which conveys your love and doesn’t leave them ready to
run. Stroking their back, offering them praise as you caress them helps the pet to
associate good things with your touch. Gradually include other areas you touch,
such as petting or stroking their legs and feet. This helps acclimate them to having
their feet touched, which is especially helpful when inspecting paws or nails for
damage. If you just can’t keep from hugging, at least keep it short and give them
the choice to leave. Remember, your pet has their own identity and personality. Be
respectful. Learn to interpret their body language.
Another article, at chewy.com, lists the ways our pets show us their love.
They lean into us, cuddle with us or lie on or under our legs, or burrow unto us.
Chewy suggests the less we try to hug our pets, the more they want to show us
Our pets frequently climb into our laps, laying their heads on our shoulders
or reaching up to give kisses. Our cat, Pan, loves to sleep in my lap, cuddle behind
my knees on the couch, or lay on my desk as I write. He’s the first editor to read
each of these articles, and he’s been known to add a few letters of his own. If I get
too affectionate, the disgusted look and flattened ears speak louder than words.
Really? Yup, just saying.
Morgan, our boxer, would crawl into my lap, wrap both legs around my
waist and lay his head on my shoulder. After we cuddled and hugged for a moment,
he would go back to playing rope tug with his sister Mindy. This scenario
happened daily. Sometimes, you just need a hug.
For a look at some entertaining videos of dogs loving on and hugging their
humans, go to rover.com and click on the link. I bet you can’t keep from smiling.