Let’s Talk About Hugging

My Huggy Dog

I want to delve into the subject of dog hugging.

I have come under some fire lately because I have insinuated dogs don’t like being hugged. For more on 11 Things Your Dog Hates click here.

The truth is: it’s true, and it’s not true.

Dog behavior is complicated and, yes, all dogs are different.

I have 3 dogs.

One absolutely loves to be hugged by me and other people she loves she is almost 5.  Again, I would warn people not to hug dogs they don’t know; because hugging is not a “dog behavior” it is a human behavior that we teach our dogs to either like or tolerate in most cases.

And she would never tolerate being hugged if she was over excited, for more on why that matters click here.

The other (4 years) hates being hugged, even by me.  If I insist he will growl and try to get away.  To force him to accept being hugged would be dangerous for both of us.  He tolerates it more from my husband, but he still doesn’t like it and occasionally will growl or leave the room.  He would be dangerous if someone he didn’t know tried to hug him.

The third (2 years) loves to be touched, but he has a hard time standing still.  I could hug him (no one else should) but I am likely to get a black eye in the aftermath as he jumps and zips around me.  He is just pretty much too busy to hug.

Breaking It Down

Let me better break it down for you.

Fury

Fury my almost 5 year old female Dutch Shepherd climbs into my lap and thrusts her head into my neck.

Totally content in my lap

Totally content in my lap

She truly loves being engulfed in my arms and hugged and kissed.  As I kiss she presses her face harder against my face and as I hug her she often wraps her neck over my shoulder and presses in, as if to hug me back.

So, it is clear to see that I hug and snuggle her.  I don’t force her, but she has a desire to be in my lap and be loved in this manner.

She also has a soft and squishy face when she snuggles me (for more on squishy face click here)  and by that I mean that her eyes are soft and she blinks often as if to reiterate how much she is enjoying a good snuggle.  Her pupils are soft and I can’t see the whites of her eyes.  Also her body is completely relaxed and it is her choice when to come and go.  I don’t grab her and hug her anytime, I allow her to come and ask for a snuggle.

For instance, I wouldn’t hug her while she was over excited for more on why that can create a dangerous situation in a normally loving dog click here.

All of these indicate that she is happy with what is going on in our snuggle session.

Pharaoh

Pharaoh my 2 year old male is nicknamed “Zippy” because it seems that he never stops “zipping”.

Everything he does begins with a hop, and he has a hard time controlling himself, a lot of the time.

He likes being touched, and actually will freeze and try to be still while I pet him… but the moment I stop he is back to jumping and zipping around and sometimes mouthing if he is over excited.

I don’t allow him to jump ON me but he can and does often jump 8 feet or more over my head from a dead stand still (hopefully I can get him to do this dock diving some day!)

He is extremely high drive (for more on that click here)  and just does not settle easily or for long.

So I don’t find myself hugging him often.  He will climb into my lap when he is tired but engulfing him with my body or kissing him in the face might be dangerous to me if he gets over stimulated.  I have gotten black eyes from over excited dogs before.

Yet, I know for the most part he would not bite me, although I did incur a bite and a scar as he jumped for his toy once, intentionally.  Again, he was over excited when that happened.

Jovi

His normal face

His normal face

Jovi is my 4 year old Malinois and he is my biggest dog weighing in at a svelte 85#.

He hates being hugged by anyone including me.

That is not to say that he isn’t affectionate, he will sit with his head in my lap, but he doesn’t want to feel “trapped” by a hug or forced into a behavior he doesn’t want to do.  I think in some ways it scares him, which in turn scares me a little 😉

After all, who wants an 85# dog growling in their face?  NOT ME!

He gets “whale eye” (a term coined by Sue Sternberg I believe) or a hard stare he is stressed.  And, that means that I can see the whites around his pupils.

His normal face is never squishy, like my girlie, but he has normal pupils and eyes during normal times.

When he gets stressed, I can see the whites around his eyes.  In order to help people better understand, I got two pictures.  One of his normal resting face… and the other of his stressed face with “whale eye” or a hard stare.

Whale eye can be and is often a sign of aggression in dogs that have a normal eye set (meaning not dogs with bulging eyes like pugs or bostons, etc. who already have big eyes).  Most dogs will show whale eye right before they bite.

Just trying to get the photo was uncomfortable for us both.  I had to put him in a state of conflict, which I try my best to avoid.  Just asking him to “hug” makes him uncomfortable.

Whale Eye, note the whites of his eyes

Whale Eye, note the whites of his eyes

Hugging doesn’t occur in the dog world.

Dogs jump on one another to dominate each other, and to mate but they don’t hug each other.

Even in play, it is usually a quick play bow, pounce and then run.  Any duration is usually a sign of humping.

Although I do trim his nails and occasionally hold him still to examine him, he has never had a bad hugging experience, nor do I beat or abuse him.

He just doesn’t like to be hugged, nor does he like for me to get into his face (for kissing etc.)

While looking through pictures of all of my dogs, I have lots of hugging and kissing fury pictures, very few pictures of the Zip and me in the same frame (since he is always on the go) and only a few pictures of Jo sitting next to me.

As Close to a Hug as We Get to Keep Him Comfortable

As Close to a Hug as We Get to Keep Him Comfortable

I allow him to choose what he likes and doesn’t like and don’t press the issue (some people think I should punish him for growling) but I don’t think that confrontation helps our relationship.

I don’t want to go toe to toe with him because I don’t want to be bitten or mauled and I don’t want him to be put to sleep.

After all, don’t we all get to choose the things we like and don’t like in our lives?  I think that he should have the same options.

And, if I feel conflict I just make him get down or do a down stay somewhere.

He is very predictable, which is why I do allow him to lay his head in my lap on occasion.

For the most part most people never see this side of him, but I certainly wouldn’t allow anyone to run up to or hug him.

And, yes, I do often click and treat him for allowing me to get in his space and doing things like hugging, but it doesn’t change how he emotionally feels about it deep down.  He has learned to tolerate it, but he doesn’t seek it out and I know he doesn’t like it.

Yes, You Should Treat Dogs Individually

I treat my dogs as individuals.

But I worry about people who think that all dogs want to be cuddled or snuggled.

I remember once having my Service Dog demo dog out in public at a movie theatre.  I had left him on a down stay, while I purchased popcorn, only to look over at a toddler giving him “zerberts” on his exposed belly.  Thankfully he was a kind dog and was enjoying the toddler… but not all dogs would accept this from a child especially a child that they don’t know.

I have seen horrifying bites while working in this business, and dogs kill people each year.

I would rather that everyone who reads my articles take note and be aloof and teach their children good manners with a dog that they don’t know rather than assuming that all dogs are affectionate in a certain way.

The only bad thing that will happen in that case is that the dog won’t get hugged.

But on the other hand, the bad thing that happens is that children are mauled or people are bitten in the face, because of course this is what we are putting in their face.

Dogs are animals, and animals have teeth, and they don’t always behave alike or as we humans would like them to do.

I would love to be able to affectionately hug all of my dogs.  I like affectionate dogs and have not raised them any differently.  I would adore snuggling with Jo, but I must respect that it is not something he desires.  He likes sitting next to me, and that is good enough for me.

But dogs are dogs and we must learn to read their behaviors and keep ourselves and our children safe.  And, sometimes that means not getting overly affectionate with a dog that we don’t know, and not pushing our own dogs to do things they abhor.

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