Updated on October 27, 2022
According to the internet, April 10th is National Hug Your Dog Day. This might be an unpopular opinion, but we’re going to say it: Don’t hug your dog.
We love dogs (obviously), but as people who interact with these creatures every day, it’s important to recognize that dogs and humans have different understandings of social behaviors, such as the act of embrace.
According to behavioral specialists, dogs don’t react to hugs the same way humans do, and hugging your dog can cross some uncomfortable boundaries for your pet.
Seven reasons why you actually shouldn’t hug your dog on Hug Your Dog Day:
1. Your dog doesn’t understand what’s happening
We are taught from a young age that hugs are a sign of affection. Imagine, though, nobody ever taught you this social construct. You might think someone is trying to arrest your movement or contain you, which is pretty much what dogs think is happening when you hug them. Yikes!
2. It’s awkward being hugged by strangers
Of course, dogs enjoy getting affection from people they love and are comfortable with. But how would you feel if some random stranger came up and embraced you out of nowhere? You might be cool with it, but more likely it would make you very uncomfortable. Let the dog get to know you first!
3. Tolerating affection is a learned behavior
According to pet expert Amy Shojai, dogs who like to hug have been taught from a young age to understand hugging as a positive interaction. Dogs who were never taught this association can shut down their natural reactions and become immobilized, and will usually exhibit signs of stress such as panting, turning away from the hugger, and widening their eyes.
4. Their body language indicates discomfort
If you Google search images of people hugging dogs, the furry friends in question more often than not have moon eyes: their ears are down, and their head is turned away from the human to avoid eye contact. These are all signs of distress.
5. It’s not in a dog’s nature to be confined…
…which is often why dogs get stressed when you hug them because you are ultimately limiting their ability to escape your grasp. Let the doggies roam!
Dogs are cursorial animals, and one of the main arguments as to why dogs don’t like hugs is that their primal instincts tell them to run away from danger. When you hug a dog you prohibit their ability to exercise this instinct. Love on your dog in a way that doesn’t limit their mobility, such as giving them treats or belly rubs.
6. Dogs are more sensitive to their environment than humans.
If it’s just you and your dog in a familiar environment such as your house, your dog is less likely to exhibit signs of stress. But when you’re in public, your dog is more likely to be on sensory overload from all the activity around them, adding to a heightened state of stress. Be considerate of your environment if you do go in for a furry embrace.
7. There are tons of other ways to have positive, loving interactions with your dog.
Dogs love playing, running, walking, receiving pets and rubs galore, and none of these interactions involve the dog losing their mobility. 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. Dogs want to feel like part of the family, and one way you can achieve this is by engaging your dog in interactive sports and activities. And yes, cuddling definitely counts as an activity.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. If your dog likes hugs, they’ve probably made it known to you. If you’re unsure of whether your dog likes hugs, look at the behavior they exhibit while you embrace them.
Signs your dog doesn’t like being hugged
- They have moon eyes: dog’s eyes widen when they are stressed, revealing their otherwise unseen eye whites. This often looks like they’re giving you the side-eye, or looking off to the side. When you see this behavior, back off your dog!
- Their ears go down or backward: This is another textbook behavior of an uneased dog. When dogs are happy and intrigued, their ears typically perk up. When dogs are on defense mode, they put their ears down.
- Their body stiffens: If you notice a change in breathing or posture from your dog, they might be exhibiting signs of discomfort.
- Turning Head Away: Dogs will turn their head away from what is bugging them or causing them stress.
Seven ways to love on your dog other than hugging:
This is one of the most well-known ways to love your dog without constraining them. Every dog has that one spot that makes them go bonkers for the pets. Get to know your dog better by finding their “sweet spot” and giving them all the pets. It’s a simple gesture that lets them know you care.
Playing with your dog for 10 or 20 minutes at a time, once or twice a day can be a huge bonding experience for you and pups.
We know– you get home from work after a long day, and frankly the last thing you want to think about doing is going back outside to walk your dog. But after a long day spent at home alone, your dog really looks forward to that time. Making walks a daily practice is good for both of you, so you might as well if you’re capable! Don’t have time for a walk? Try our Adventure Hikes.
Teach them a trick:
You’ll be surprised what your dog can learn when given a chance! Taking just a few household items, you can teach your dog some really cool stuff. Check out how Sushi learned this hoop trick with the help of our trainer, Rhonda.
Give them an activity to do:
Dogs want purpose! Fill a Kong with treats or hide treats beneath tennis balls in a muffin tin and let them sniff out their bounty. It will help your dog flex their brain muscles and keep them occupied!
One way to show your dog they are special is by treating them to delicious dog-friendly fare! Make dinnertime extra special by throwing in a baked and cooled sweet potato to their meal: in addition to getting loads of nutrients, your dog will love the sweet and surprising treat!
Dogs don’t always understand what we say, but they can tell how we’re saying it. So yes, your dog gets the message loud and clear when you tell them what a good dog they are. If you want to show your dog you love them, sing them a song or whisper sweet nothings into their ear. Chances are they can tell you’re praising them in the tone of your voice.
Ultimately, 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. So, please be mindful of your dog’s feelings the next time you go in for the big embrace.
Fitdog is a dog training and enrichment center located in Santa Monica, CA. Go to Fitdog.com to learn more.