Dogs are loyal and loving members of the family, so it’s natural to want to show them the same kind of affection that you show humans. It may seem instinctual of you to give your dog a hug either because you need one, or because you simply love them so much – but be cautious! Dogs do not view hugs the same way that humans do, which can have potentially dangerous consequences.
It is true that some dogs (especially therapy dogs) will tolerate or even like being hugged, but many dogs do not enjoy the gesture; especially if they have never been hugged before. Canines heavily rely on body language for communication, and placing one or both arms over your dog can be viewed as a sign of dominance. This might be confusing or even intimidating for your dog, so if you notice your dog becoming very still or stiff during a hug, that’s probably a sign they’re not enjoying the experience. Additionally, hugs often entail a person’s face being very close to the dog, which can be dangerous should the dog become aggressive out of fear or discomfort.
In some cases, a dog may actually enjoy hugs – but if the hug’s duration is too long, they might suddenly feel trapped and freak out. Just think about it: when you were a child, and a relative hugged you for way longer than you wanted to be hugged, didn’t you feel like you needed to do anything to escape their grasp? That’s how your dog feels when a hug has gone on long enough.
Another thing to consider when hugging your dog is how you approach them. Always ensure that your dog sees you coming and knows of your presence before approaching them. If you come up behind them and surprise them with a hug, they might be startled and react in fear by snapping or growling at you. Again, think of how you would react if someone came up behind you and hugged you out of nowhere – you’d probably be pretty startled as well!
As someone who has hugged many dogs in my life, I would recommend a side hug approach (as pictured above) and never a frontal approach. When you approach a dog head-on, they could also interpret it as a challenge, and become intimidated; especially if your arms are open and closing in on them. Your dog may think that you are going to overtake them, which could cause them to be overwhelmed. Pay attention to your dog’s body language as well as its eyes – if their eyes widen and show fear, retreat. A hug approach from the back should also be avoided, unless you are slightly to an angle and therefore somewhat visible peripherally to your dog’s field of vision.
It’s important that children are taught how to approach and handle dogs safely. Even if your dog does tolerate a big old bear hug, that doesn’t mean every dog will. Especially since children are very rambunctious (usually) and uninhibited, they might be too rough, too quick, or just generally inconsiderate in their approach and execution of a hug. You may think that your child hugging, riding, grabbing, poking, or even hitting your dog is “cute,” but it actually could end up to be a not-so-cute situation – a potentially dangerous one. Children are closer in size to dogs than adult humans are (depending on the size of the dog), so your dog may very well think your child is actually a dog that is intimidating it and causing a power struggle.
Of course, there are plenty of other ways to show your canine companion some affection. Opt for a belly rub or some behind-the-ears scratching and your dog will have no doubt about how much you care. For those who are experienced huggers, then keep doing your thing – but just remember that any hug has potential to be dangerous if you don’t hug safely!