Humans are hardwired to understand hugs as expressions of affection, so it can be difficult to believe that this bodily gesture might not be universally perceived as positive and enjoyable. This is precisely the case, though, when it comes to your pet pooch. Unlike humans, they can react to hugs with discomfort, fear, nervousness, and even aggression, so you should make sure your dog is happy with your hugs before you wrap your arms around them. Simply pay attention to their behavioral signs, help them adjust gradually, and learn other, canine-customized ways to express your love.
Identify signs of anxiety and stress.
While dogs express high levels of anxiety and fear through generally recognized behaviors, such as growling or teeth-baring, they show milder feelings of discomfort in subtler ways. In order to figure out if your dog likes hugs, you should learn to recognize these less overt signals: after all, just because your dog tolerates your hugs, doesn’t mean they enjoy it.
For example, check to see if your dog turns its head away from yours, closes its eyes or shows the whites of them, lowers its ears, licks its lips, or closes its mouth. Yawning, soft whining, and paw lifting can also be signs of stress.
Additionally, take note of your dog’s behavior after you embrace it. If it shakes its coat as if it’s just had a bath, it’s showing that it didn’t particularly enjoy the hug.
Consider your dog’s background.
Just like humans, dogs receive and respond to bodily contact due largely to their background and experience. If they have abuse in their past, for instance, they’re unlikely to be comfortable with close physical contact. Or, if they’ve been well-treated by previous owners but are older in age and unaccustomed to hugs, they’re probably going to prefer you keep your hugs to fellow humans.
Similarly, consider your own personal history and relationship with the dog. If you’ve only recently adopted or purchased the dog, you should wait until the two of you become better acquainted before you try hugging it.
Have someone photograph you while hugging your dog.
If you’re still unsure as to whether or not your dog really enjoys your affectionate overtures, ask a friend or family member to take a snapshot while you’re mid-embrace. You’ll be able to assess the expression on your dog’s face in a way that you can’t when you’ve got your arms wrapped around it.
Some experts also recommend watching your dog get hugs from another close family member or friend. As they lean into a hug and lean back out again several times, you’ll see if your dog displays any anxious behaviors in consistent and explicit connection with hugs.
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