Hello there. We have gathered you here today to discuss a subject that is near and dear to everyone's hearts: hugging your dogs. We've also gathered you here today to tell you that maybe you should stop doing that.
What? Yeah, you hear us right. Stop hugging your fluffy little fur-ball and just sit there staring at them longingly, wanting to squeeze their cute little faces. Right, like you're really going to do that.
No more hugs for you. Sorry, excuse us for a minute, be right back, we're going to go hug this dog because we can't really handle how sad he looks. But here's the thing: dogs might not actually like hugs.
When you're hugging your precious little pup, they might not be enjoying themselves as much as you are. Tough, right? It turns out, dogs are usually just putting up with your behavior, being the patient, too good for this world creatures that they are.
"I've never seen a dog who — when you hug them — they stand up and wag their tail and they're so excited," said dog-cognition scientist Dr. Alexandra Horowitz on the matter. "They do something else. They deal with it, you know?" But how can you resist hugging such a smol doggo?
"[It's] because of what they look like when you're hugging them. They pin their ears back, they lick their lips (sort of air licking). Or they yawn, which is another stress behavior. Or they move to get away. Or they show this kind of whale-eye posture — you can see the whites of their eyes. They show behavior that's like, 'This is uncomfortable,'" continued Horowitz. Okay, doctor, you can't tell us what to do.
Dr. Patricia McConnell also weighed in on the matter. She's a certified applied animal behaviorist, and a very respected individual in the field of dog behavior. She's spent decades rehabilitating dogs with behavioral issues, and become acutely aware of social interactions with canines. She says dogs don't like hugs. What does she know, right?
"If you watch little kids, tiny little kids who are just barely able to stand on their legs," said McConnell, "they wrap their arms around another to express affection, empathy and love by hugging. It’s just so hard-wired into who we are and what we do." Yes, it's hard-wired into what we do, but it's not hard-wired into what dogs do.
"And so I think when we tell people that dogs don’t like hugging, it’s like some primal, limbic part of our brain says, 'You mean my dog doesn’t love me?!'" she continues. Yes, that is exactly what we are thinking. How will we ever let our dog know they're the only thing in the world we love? But dogs view hugs in a very different way than we do.
"Dogs, like people, have a particular way of greeting, none of which involves having a foreleg over the shoulder," says McConnell. "But dogs do put a leg over the shoulders of another -- either one leg or both legs -- and it’s called 'standing over.' It usually relates to some form of social status or perhaps competition for resources, so it is considered to be [done by] a dog who is trying to get some control." So dogs do hug each other. To tell the other dog that hey, I'm better than you. Oh. That's not a fun type of hug.
Welcome to the saddest news that you've heard all day. That big friendly squeeze that you like to give your dog each morning, and maybe every second of every single day, well, that's not a good move. Dogs tend to view that action as a threat.
"At best, I think some dogs just shrug it off and don’t pay a lot of attention to it for whatever reason. For instance, golden retrievers are famous for their fondness for any kind of touching. But for a lot of dogs, they see it as a potential threat," said McConnell. Okay, so it's time to go get yourself a golden retriever. That's what we're getting out of this.
McConnell mentioned how many dogs have varying responses to different behavior, including hugs. "They’ll go stiff, they’ll close their mouth, maybe they’ll do a little lip licking. They’re anxious, they’re concerned, perhaps wondering, 'Did I do something wrong? What should I do now? Should I just sit still and not do anything?" It's important to pay attention to how your dog is reacting to the way you're treating them.
Of course, your dog is different. He loves hugs. One way to find out? Take a picture. "One of the best things that I’ve found to help people decide whether their dog likes it or not, is to hug your dog and have someone take a picture," says McConnell, "When we hug our dogs, we don’t see their face. [A client] will say, 'My dog loves it!' Then I’ll take a picture and show them, and they’ll say, 'Oooh…'" McConnell advised. You probably already have dozens of snapshots of you hugging your dog. Go check one of those out.
"We share so much with dogs; we love to communicate, we love to play, there’s so much we share. But we’re not the same species. There are things that are very different about us and how we relate to each other, and this is one of them," said McConnell. So if your dog doesn't look happy in that picture of you hugging him, stop hugging him. Because that's so easy to do.
"It takes a lot of experience, it turns out, to be good at reading signs of fear or stress or discomfort on the face of a dog," says McConnell.
"I’ve had people with dogs with really serious problems come into my office and say, 'Oh, you can go ahead and pet him, he’s fine.' But the dog would be radiating, just radiating, 'Do not touch me. Do not touch me.' The person thinks their dog is fine because he’s not growling and his tail is wagging — which as we know is not necessarily a sign of happiness. So you might have to help them through seeing what the expression means."
Hopefully, you know your dog well enough to know when he's happy or sad. You're allowed to cuddle your puppies. That's the good news take-away from all this nonsense. But next time you go for a hug, maybe think twice.