Do Dogs Like Hugs?

Most humans recognize a hug as a sign of affection and friendship. In an IAMS™ survey*, 83% of dog parents say their dog likes hugs too. But how do dogs feel about them? Bring it in! We’re going to try and get our arms around this question.

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Dogs don’t like hugs: Spoiler alert

Sure, some dogs enjoy a good canine cuddle, but usually only with their owner or household members. Otherwise, they don’t really care for it. “Hugging is too much and overwhelming for many dogs and should be discouraged if the dog doesn’t know the individual very well,” advises James Serpell, B.S., Ph.D., Professor of Humane Ethics & Animal Welfare at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. 

There are a number of reasons for this:

Four legs vs. two

 

Hugging is a human behavior, not a dog behavior. They’re just not physically built for that kind of interaction. We stand upright, so we face people. Dogs are on all fours, so it’s an unnatural act for them. They much prefer a friendly sniff to greet other dogs.

Dominant behavior

 

To dogs, a hug is seen as a very dominant form of behavior; it feels like a stranger is trying to assert control over them. It can be quite stressful, especially if done by someone they’re not familiar with.

Freeeeeeeeeedom!


Since ancient dog days, canines’ first instinctive line of defense has been to run away from danger. Hugging takes this primal option away and can make them feel trapped and confined. Remember when you were a kid getting hugged by that loud great aunt you’ve never met at your dad’s second cousin’s wedding? That’s kind of what your dog is feeling. Who is this? What are they doing? They want to escape too.
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Signs your dog does not like hugs

You can usually tell by their body language, says Dr. Jo Gale, BVetMed CertLAS MRCVS, Senior Manager, Global Science Advocacy at Waltham Petcare Science Institute: “Watch for trembling, trying to get away, raised hackles or whites around their eyes. It’s very important to pay attention to this behavior and respect it.”

Alternatives to hugging your dog

Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t want to hug it out. There are plenty of healthier ways you can show them you’re still their best friend:

  • Pet them or give them a good, relaxing brush.
  • Take them on walks or play a game with their favorite toy.
  • Give them their favorite food or treats.
  • Give them a verbal hug. Tell them they’re a “good boy” or a “good girl.” They never get tired of that.

*Surveyed U.S. dog owners, age 18+ 

Sample Size: n=201 

Fielded May 8-10, 2020