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Do dogs like hugs? Guide to physical affection with dogs

Woman hugs her small dog.

Humans greet one another and show affection by hugging. So, it’s natural for pet parents to want to wrap their dogs in a warm embrace when they get home after a long day. But do dogs like hugs? What forms of physical affection do dogs like? Let’s explore how to tell if your dog likes physical affection and discuss some hugging alternatives. 

Table of contents 

Do dogs like hugs? 

Although people and dogs have been intimately connected for centuries, there are still some forms of communication that we do not share. Just like we do not greet people by sniffing their behinds, hugging is not a natural way for dogs to show love. 

You hug your dog all the time and they don’t complain. However, professional dog trainer Stephanie Gibeault points out that it is more likely that your dog is simply tolerating your hugs rather than enjoying them. Every pup is different—some crave physical affection while others only tolerate it or downright hate it. For many dogs, subjecting them to hugs can cause stress and even result in a bite. 

So, why don’t dogs like hugs? When you hug a dog, they don’t understand what you’re trying to say. In fact, you’re essentially trapping them. They can’t get away and are defenseless in an uncomfortable situation, which is very stressful for them. 

Hugging is often accompanied by direct eye contact and putting your face right next to the dog’s. These actions can be interpreted by a dog as aggressive or threatening, and also puts you at risk of serious injury if the dog decides to bite. 

Should you hug dogs? 

Even if your dog tolerates hugs from you, they might not be okay with one coming from a stranger or a young child. Their comfort with hugs may also depend on timing and location or situation. For example, morning cuddles in bed may be perfectly okay, but not when your dog is eating a meal or on high alert at the dog park.  

You should not give hugs to dogs you do not know well nor those who experience either general or acute situational stress. This can be tricky for children who learn that hugging is good, so it is essential to teach kids safe ways to interact with dogs other than hugging. If you are familiar with a dog and they’ve given indications that they enjoy being touched, you might be able to try hugging them as long as you pay close attention to their body language

How can you tell whether your dog likes hugs? 

Since you know your dog’s personality best, you can probably guess what kinds of interactions your dog will tolerate and what will make them uneasy. But it isn’t always that simple, particularly with unfamiliar dogs. 

The best way to tell whether a dog likes or would welcome hugs is to observe their body language. It is important to emphasize, however, that if you are not sure what a dog wants, the safest option is to skip hugs. According to research from Dr. Stanley Coren, you should be aware of these signs that a dog is stressed and does not like hugs: 

  • “Half-moon eyes,” in which the whites of the dog’s eyes are visible 
  • Lowered or tucked tail 
  • Lip licking 
  • Turning away from people 
  • Pinned-back ears 
  • Yawning 
  • Panting 
  • Stiff posture 
  • Baring teeth 
  • Growling 

Animal behavior expert Dr. Zazie Todd notes that you can also try a consent test with your dog. First, pet your dog for a bit and then stop and note how they react. If they walk away, it’s a clear indication that they didn’t like the physical affection and a hug would be a bad idea. But if they liked what you were doing, they will make it obvious that they want more of it. Maybe they will lean into you, or they will paw at you for more. 

How can ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA help stressed dogs? 

There are a number of reasons a dog can experience stress and not welcome a human hug. Perhaps a rescue dog came from an abusive and neglectful situation, your dog missed out on early socialization opportunities, or they have a health issue that is causing them stress. Stressed dogs probably don’t want to be touched, let alone completely embraced. These dogs likely show several other signs of stress and their quality of life is suffering, as well.  

If your dog is refusing physical affection due to stress, ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA can help reduce their stress levels and allow them to calmly interact with the world around them. For acute or situational stress, ElleVet’s Calm & Comfort, when given 1.5-2 hours ahead of a trigger event, calms dogs significantly and allows them to handle high-stress situations such as thunderstorms, grooming appointments, and veterinary visits. By calming rather than sedating, Calm & Comfort can help reduce your dog’s stress response over time.  

Hugging alternatives 

For some dogs, showing them affection with a hug just isn’t an option. But there are tons of other ways to have positive, loving interactions with your dog. So, what are some hugging alternatives you can use to communicate to your dog that you love them? 

Dogs love playing, running, and going on walks, and none of these are physically restraining like a hug. Show your dog you love them by tossing them a frisbee and a treat, or by dedicating time to playing and hanging out with them. Talk to your dog in a low, warm voice, give them belly rubs when they roll over to ask for affection, and cuddle with them on the couch on their terms. 

In terms of physical affection, your dog may show you they love you by leaning up against you, nudging you with their nose, licking you, or rolling over to ask for belly rubs.  

Bottom line 

When it comes to whether to hug dogs, the most important thing is to know your dog, or dogs you’re interacting with, and not to cross uncomfortable boundaries. Just as all humans deserve consensual interactions, dogs will invite you into their space as they see fit. Hugging it out can be more stressful than beneficial for your dog.