unhappy toddler being hugged by older sister
Ask yourself: Does this little boy look like he is enjoying this hug?

Should we hug our dogs? This is a hot topic around the internet today, so I thought it was worth a few thoughts.

Dogs are typically not big into hugging (and often not big into petting, especially the short “pat pat” variety). These behaviors that are reinforcing to humans, which often leads us to believe (hope? wish?) that they are reinforcing to our dog as well. Such a belief is unfair to our dogs, since, after all, we appreciate their dog-like qualities in so many other ways. Who else will like our face when we’re having a bad day or be so excited to see us, even when we have massive bedhead?

I can almost hear you right now saying, “I hug my dog all the time and he’s fine.” Most of our dogs will tolerate some of these behaviors, at least from people they know. The level of tolerance will vary greatly from dog to dog. For each dog, it will also vary between people. This is not dissimilar to our own behavior. We often tolerate hugs, head pats, cheek patting, etc. from some people that we would not tolerate from others. This does not mean we enjoy them.

There are a few simple strategies we can use to help protect our dogs from unwanted hugging.

  1. Become familiar with canine body language. When we are aware of the sometimes subtle signals our dogs are sending, we know when they are or are not enjoying the activity.
  2. Closely monitor interaction with children, strangers, and others who may be less familiar to the dog or less aware of the dog’s body language. Dogs may be less tolerant of contact from these individuals who are not part of their group of trusted adults, and these individuals are likely less attuned to and able to react appropriately to signals the dog may send.
  3. Give our dogs a chance to walk away. When we allow our dogs to opt in or out of contact, we restore choice and reduce the threat that restraint can pose. Remember, in order for it to be a real choice, the dog cannot be punished for opting out of the contact.

I am human. I want to hug my dog and that’s all right. But that doesn’t mean he always wants a hug. And that’s all right too.

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