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Do Dogs Like Hugs? Or Does it Give Them Anxiety?

Well that’s kind of a depressing question, isn’t it? Sometimes all we want to do is give our furry friends a big giant hug! But lately there has been a lot of talk about a study that claims hugging dogs actually gives them anxiety…is this true?

We live in a world of “click bait” style headlines…meaning headlines that don’t exactly tell the whole truth. One of the main headlines going around right now is that dogs hate it when you hug them.

If you’ve browsed any animal blog or website recently, you’ve no doubt come across headlines such as “your dog hates your hugs”, or “hugging causes anxiety in your dog”.

But are these statements actually true? The majority of so-called “experts” are starting to claim you shouldn’t hug your dog, but there are also a few experts claiming that your dog might love hugs and if you stop hugging them, you’re depriving them of something they love.

So which side is right? The truth is neither side is (or ever will be) correct. SOME dogs get very anxious and stressed when being hugged and SOME dogs absolutely love it and can’t get enough of it. Below we will discuss how to identify whether or not your dog enjoys your hugs and what to do instead if it turns out they aren’t huge fans.

How This Belief Got Started

There was an article published in 2016 by Dr. Stanley Coren with the headline of “The Data Says Don’t Hug the Dog!”. Once that article was released, everyone seemed to jump on the “don’t hug your dog” bandwagon and the internet became full of various reasons you shouldn’t hug your dog…the primary one being that it gives your dog anxiety and causes them to stress out.

I have a large amount of respect for this man and find him to be brilliant when it comes to dog psychology, but I do find the data presented in that article to be faulty.

He claimed that 81% of dogs he observed receiving a hug showed signs of stress/anxiety. The keyword here is “observed”. This was an observational study which means it should already be taken with a grain of salt…but to take it one step further, what he observed was 250 randomly selected photos from the internet. This means we have no idea what was going on before the pictures were taken.

Even though he didn’t show all 250 photos in his study, I have no reason to not believe him. However, there are too many factors that can come into play here, the main one being the fact that a lot of the dogs might have been scared of the camera! It sounds silly, but dogs can be cautious when it comes to devices they are uncertain of. If you point a camera in their face there’s a good chance they won’t like it.

The other issue is that a few of the sample photos he provided were of a child hugging the dog. As cute as it is when children play with and love on dogs, we all know they have a unique way of annoying dogs (pulling on the ears, poking the eyes, grabbing the tail, etc.).

Taking all this into consideration, we can’t rely on that one single observational study of 250 random photos and come to a definitive answer…

…yet that’s exactly what most of the “experts” have done.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not claiming all dogs like hugs. In fact, I know not all dogs do. But I also don’t believe a whopping 81% of dogs hate hugs!

Sure, some dogs in the photos Dr. Stanley Coren observed might have had anxiety from the hug. But some might have also had anxiety because of an unknown device being pointed in their face or they were just annoyed of the little ones giving them that hug (even though it made for a darn cute photo!).

Why Your Dog MIGHT Get Anxiety From a Hug

So now that you understand not all dogs dislike hugs, let’s talk about why some dogs might not like them very much.

There are obviously many differences between humans and our k9 friends. Humans need hugs, dogs don’t. Humans meet and greet with hugs, dogs don’t. Humans typically rely on their intellectual ability when faced with uncertain situations, dogs typically rely on their ability to run away from uncertain situations.

The final sentence in bold is the key reason your dog may not like hugs. Even though they may trust you, when you wrap your arms around them they might feel like you are taking away their ability to use their primary defense mechanism…running!

It has nothing to do with them not enjoying your physical contact, it’s the simple fact that they may feel their primary defense mechanism is being taken away from them.

How To Tell If It’s ok To Give Your Dog a Hug

One thing you will read over and over on this blog is that there’s much more to being a responsible dog owner than just making sure your dog is well fed and has ample play time. Being a responsible dog owner means learning YOUR dogs stress cues.

What does this mean? Humans often try to hide their stress because we want others to think we are doing ok. Dogs don’t do this. Your dog will let you know when it’s anxious, stressed, scared, happy, and so on.

They do this through physical cues, and these cues are things you need to learn and watch out for.

Dogs can express stress/anxiety/fear cues differently, but we will talk about the most common ones to look for when giving your dog a hug.

If your pup expresses one of the following cues, there’s a good chance they’re just tolerating your hug and would prefer it not to happen.

  • Excessive Blinking: This one is rarely talked about, but it’s one of the most common signs of anxiety. When giving your dog a hug, take a look at their eyes, if they are blinking excessively your dog might be telling you to let go.
  • Lip Licking and Yawning: The primary thing to look for here is actually the lip licking, but yawning and lip licking go hand in hand. Humans have plenty of subconscious nervous reactions such as playing with their hair or biting nails. For dogs, lip licking is one of those subconscious nervous reactions.
  • Pulled Back/Down Ears: This one is very simple to spot. When a dog pulls their ears back or down it almost looks like they are frowning.
  • Shaking Off: Don’t confuse this one with shaking in general. A dog will rarely just shake from getting a hug. You know how dogs shake off when they are wet? If they don’t like your hugs they will do the same thing when you are done hugging them. So if they shake off like they just got out of the bath after you hug them, they most likely don’t like hugs.

There are other signs such as droopy eyes and a tucked tail, but it’s rare to get those two cues without one of the cues mentioned above.

If your dog doesn’t express any of those signs, there’s a good chance they actually enjoy your hugs.

What To Do If Your Dog Shows Signs of Anxiety

First off, just because your dog showed one of those signs when you hugged them doesn’t mean they ALWAYS dislike your hugs. It means they didn’t enjoy it at that exact moment. There can be many reasons for this. If your dog is already in an uncertain situation, they may prefer you to be by their side but not wrapped in your arms.

For example, if you take your dog to a place they aren’t familiar with, they might already be anxious and stressed, so giving them a hug and making them think you are taking away their ability to run isn’t a good idea. Timing is everything here.

However, there are some dogs that don’t like hugs in general…so the next question you might be wondering is “what should I do?”.

Well, let’s keep in mind the reason behind why your dog may not like your hugs…because you are taking away their ability to flee from danger.

So the solution? Just give a one arm side hug.

I know this might not be what you wanted to hear. After all, our pets are so darn cute, sometimes we just want to wrap both our arms around them and squeeze them tight! I get it…

…but we also need to make sure we respect them. The last thing we want to do is make our furry friends anxious, stressed, or scared.

By giving them a one arm side hug, you are able to still show them love without making them feel trapped. ‘

To summarize the answer to whether or not hugging a dog causes anxiety, the answer is both yes and no. It’s highly unlikely the commonly quoted observational study of 81% of dogs getting anxiety from hugs is accurate. However, there are some dogs that don’t respond well to them and feel like you’re trapping them. As a responsible dog owner, it’s your job to figure out how your dog responds to hugs. If he/she doesn’t show any negative cues, then hug away! If they do show some negative signs, start giving them that one arm side hug instead.