Dr. Stanley Coren, psychologist and blogger for Psychology Today, recently discussed his research on the observation that dogs, in general, don’t like to be hugged. Predictably, the fur hit the fan. As I found when I went on tour for The Other End of the Leash, some people do not appreciate that their dog might not enjoy being hugged. At first I was blindsided, especially when the host at one radio station was so angry at the idea, he could barely snort his way through the rest of the hour-long show. But I got used to it, and learned to explain that it didn’t mean that their dog didn’t love them… just that we all have different means of expressing love.
Coren’s post has raised the issue again, in which he decided to see for himself if he could find clear evidence supporting the belief that most dogs don’t like hugs. He googled “hug dog” or “love dog” and scored 250 photographs on whether the dogs showed signs of stress while a human’s arm was wrapped around them.
He found that, based on signs like tongue flicks, “whale eye,” or a tight closed mouth, 81.6% of the photos showed dogs with at least one sign of stress, 7.6% looked “comfortable,” and 10.8% looked neutral or were scored as “ambiguous”. From this he concluded that yes indeed, in general, dogs find being hugged somewhat uncomfortable.
Some comments supported his observations, while others objected. Some objections were thoughtful (camera effect?). I’d add a few caveats , such as it would be best to have someone else score the dog’s expressions, and we really can’t be 100% sure we “know” what internal state matches with an expression. Other comments were, well… it’s the internet, enough said.
I couldn’t resist adding a more few thoughts to this ongoing conversation: First, based on the comments I’ve heard for over a decade, we need to be very specific about what we mean by “hugging.” Yes, your dog may leap into your lap and kiss your face, cuddle against your neck and beg you to rub her belly. But that’s not “hugging.” In my experience, many dogs don’t enjoy having a human move one or two arms around their shoulders and squeeze. That’s the hug we are talking about.
Second, hugs from friends are different than hugs from strangers. My husband is just about the best hugger in the entire world, but if he walked up to you on the street and threw his arms around you as a stranger I suspect you wouldn’t react like I do when I hug him goodbye in the morning.
Third, hugs may be tolerated some times, and not others. All my dogs adore cuddling, and all of them tolerate hugs, but if I tried to hug the BCs when they were focused on the sheep they would absolutely hate it. As a matter of fact, I’m focused on writing this right now, and would rather not be hugged at the moment myself. Thank you for understanding.
Fourth, there are, of course, exceptions to everything. I always joke that Golden Retrievers don’t read the books and love to be touched in any possible way one can manage. But of course, there are exceptions to that–like a client’s Golden Retriever who badly bit a child in the face after being hugged.
But, oh, we so love to hug! It’s just what we do as the kind of primate that we are. Perhaps we should consider using a different term. Dogs, in general, don’t like to be “arm squeezed” or “squeezed around the shoulders.” (Is there a way to say IN GENERAL in caps verbally when talking about this issue, to make it clear that OF COURSE there are exceptions? Whoops, sorry… I’m afraid I was yelling there.) I’m not coming up with many great phrases right now. Any ideas? Or is this just a crazy idea? I await your creativity…
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Seems like I’m barely back on the farm, after being gone for 3 days at a sheepdog clinic put on by Gordon Watt. It was a little bit like being coached by Michael Jordan or Steffi Graf, given that he’s won just about everything there is to win. He’s a great teacher too, and in spite of freezing for 3 days straight, I was in heaven. I was too busy working Maggie to get any photos of her on the sheep, but here she is looking for them in the emerald green grass of spring:
Here’s Kathy Kawalec’s Clark working on his drive. Notice how he is putting exactly the right amount of pressure on both the front and back sheep to keep them moving in the correct direction (they want to move toward you, Clark is keeping them moving diagonally away). Notice his focus on the lead sheep… that is just where it needs to be.
Once home in Wisconsin, this what we did Sunday–walk with hundreds of others for Puppy Up! Madison, to raise over $130,000 for interdisciplinary research on cancers that effect both people and dogs. Thanks to some amazing organizers (I’m talking to you Beth Viney and Dr. Shiu), we met our goal (not yet recorded on the website). It was a very special day, during which I read the names of all the people and dogs honored by my friends and readers who donated through Facebook and this blog. I blew bubbles like a little kid as I read the names, and the bubbles rose up into the air and–sorry to get soppy on you–took with them the love of those of us still here on this mortal coil. Thank all of you who contributed to this very special cause.
My dogs love sharing affection with me but they dislike anything that makes them feel restrained or trapped. When I wrap both arms around him and squeeze, well socialized, well balanced, very sane Ranger tolerates it. Poorly socialized, just now developing good resilience, still kind of crazy Finna fights it if I wrap my arms around her.
Kids always want to hug Ranger and I’m constantly pointing out that he’s not a fan of hugs. Unfortunately, that statement is painting with a pretty wide brush. I wish we could film him interacting with a bunch of kids I suspect if we did that we’d see that there are a variety of types of hugs and some are less bothersome to him than others. The kid that bends over his back with an arm around him and their head between his shoulder blades isn’t giving him a pleasant hug. The kid that kneels beside him with an arm across his back and their head resting against the side of his shoulder is much more likely to continue to see the smiling face.
It never ceases to amaze me how imprecise language is and how easily a word can ignite disagreement and opposition simply because we all know what the word means and yet there is no universally agreed definition. I can put an arm across Ranger’s shoulders and scratch his chest and he cuddles in and grins. If I reach my other arm across his chest so that my wrists meet/cross he stops smiling and tries to back away. I’d call both the single arm across the shoulders and the two arms meeting around him hugs but one kind he’s fine with and the other he’s not. I wonder if a lot of the disagreement surrounding the question of whether or not dogs like to be hugged can’t be laid at the feet of that lack of precise definition of what exactly we mean by hug. As a rule I discourage kids from hugging Ranger no matter how hug is defined simply because too many types of hugs are restraining and/or threatening; saying no hugs keeps everyone safer.
I’ve never commented before, but here I am to say that I get the impression with my dogs (all very different personalities) that although they all do love cuddling and attention, they really aren’t crazy about hugs and seem to find them slightly threatening… but will tolerate them (I rarely hug, only when I can’t contain my ape-ness!) because they now understand it is how humans sometimes show affection.
I must say, it scares me when I see someone who doesn’t know a dog, hug it. I would never let any of my dogs be hugged by a stranger, especially a child.
I think many people don’t notice or minimise when their dog isn’t happy. Dogs- and animals in general- just have to put up with so much that they cannot change. I have frequently seen assistance dogs whose well being demonstrably comes second to the job they exist to do. People just do not think “is he happy? how can I enhance her life?” They just think “is it doing what I want it to do?” The sheep dog trainer Graeme Sim writes about this eloquently
In my experience most dogs welcome hugs about as much as most humans welcome headlocks. Good fun, in the right circumstances, but usually unwelcome. I hug my dogs from time to time, mostly to gauge their response and to train them to tolerate the inexplicable things that humans like to do. Copious praise / play when they do well, of course.
To avoid problems when small children want to pet the dogs, I show-and-tell how much the dogs like being petted gently on the shoulder. When children follow the example I see that as a double win – my dogs get used to children, and children learn how to approach dogs.
I have to tell one dog-hugging story. We were walking at the park years ago when a little girl took a shine to my now-departed Scruffy Dog, and he to her. They interacted nicely for a while and then she gave him a big, long-lasting hug. He kept looking over to me as if to say, “Um, do I really have to put up with this?” I kept telling him what a good dog he was. And he was.
Knowing what I know now, I probably should have rescued him sooner. Oh well.
Lisa Reed says
I know it took months of slow gentle work to get my 80# shelter dog to allow a casual drape of an arm across his shoulders without leaping away — and now, several years later, he is a leaner and walker between peoples legs – and will just stand there, being squeezed and being adored – by strangers and family.
I’ve seen it a lot working at a shelter – some volunteers insist on hugging a dog and posting what are to me, cringe worthy pictures – dog leaning away, eyes rolling, tongue flicking.
Looking for another phrase for use, I went to Wiki – and found this:
“In wrestling, a bear hug, also known as a bodylock, is a grappling clinch hold and stand-up grappling position where the arms are wrapped around the opponent, either around the opponent’s chest, midsection, or thighs, sometimes with one or both of the opponent’s arms pinned to the opponent’s body. The hands are locked around the opponent and the opponent is held tightly to the chest. The bear hug is a dominant position, with great control over the opponent, and also allows an easy takedown to the back mount position.
In business, a bear hug is an unsolicited takeover bid which is so generous that the shareholders of the target company are very unlikely to refuse.”
Maybe Bear hug is the place to start the word search?
You don’t have to publish this. You are such a lovely human-being Trisha… The world is a “nicer” place with you in it!
Margaret McLaughlin says
I have an unspoken (obviously) agreement with my dog. I hug her–I love doing it; she tolerates it politely. She licks my face–she loves doing it; I tolerate it politely. These compromises are important to living in a multi-species household. And we have Rules. A one-armed hug is fine, but not a two-armed squeeze. And don’t lick my mouth or eyes.
Love & respect, mutual. Love & boundaries? That too.
Ventral-ventral(/shoulder) contact with accompanying arm-enfolding pressure. 😉
It doesn’t really exist in the dog ethogram, although I suppose you could argue sometimes in play, like a wrestling clasp. That’s not to say dogs can’t learn that it’s okay or even enjoyable, but we should probably expect them to find it weird and threatening when it can rob them of control and put us so close to them. One of my dogs likes to jump on my lap and press himself (ventrally!) into my chest and tuck his head under my chin. I have photos of him doing this. The appropriate response from me appears to be to put my arms around him, and he doesn’t mind if I even give him a little squeeze. He’s good like that. My older dog is very tolerant of hugs, which is handy, because he’s a big fluffy teddy bear and strangers want to hug him. I probably shouldn’t encourage it, but if he’s sitting and flashing that big beatific smile around at everyone, I suggest he probably wouldn’t mind if they gave him a little hug. Just don’t hug the other dog! Always nice to have a super tolerant and touchy feely, laid back dog to redirect people to, but it also provides the opportunity to highlight that this behaviour is only acceptable for that one dog. The other dog likes to take things at his own pace, thanks, snuggles in his own home with his own people aside. My new pup is a little koala sometimes and clings. She has learnt this behaviour. If she hooks one paw around my neck and rests her back feet on my waist and rests her cheek against mine, I do not put her back in her pen right away like I intended to. She is fiendish and has identified and exploited my primate vulnerabilities! I am defenceless!
I think the important thing is to make sure we ask our dogs. The Labradors and Golden retrievers at a nearby service dog training centre are taught to rest their front end in your lap on cue so that people in wheelchairs are able to give their dog a hug. They quickly and almost universally come to love this cue, to the point where you can use it as a reinforcer. Some of them will stand there wagging their tail at you asking with their eyes for you to cue “lap”. Granted, they are labs and goldens, but there’s something to be said for being able to ask a dog “would you like to put your front end in my lap where I may squeeze you and kiss you”. They have the option to say “no, thanks”, but even being able to signal to them what is going to occur gives them a lot more control over the interaction and may make it more enjoyable.
Lenore Schmidt says
Yes, my Golden Retriever did not read the book; she leans against me (some would say she is taking ownership) and likes to sit close and leans even more when I put an arm around her shoulders and rug gently.
My Cattle Dog, Cora, on the “other hand” will snuggle and roll over for me but no arms over her shoulders. She tolerated my grandniece who put her arm around her, but the whale eye was caught in the photo. They were on the backseat together and I was driving, unaware until my niece showed me the photo. Just a lucky break Cora kept her objections to herself!
Emily Sieger says
I was truly amazed at the hatred directed at Coren’s article, even from people who are knowledgeable about dogs. Some humans are just totally invested in the notion that their dogs love being hugged. Thanks for your (as always) sensible review
Bill Bailey says
I have three German Shepherd Dogs. Two
of them are tracking dogs on a SAR team. I
have never tried to hug them but if I am sitting
on the ground the two working dogs will push
their heads between my body and my arm and
sit there. (not at the same time). To me this
would be them making me hug them. They
started doing this all on their own and have that GSD smile on their faces. I will have to
watch other people with their dogs and see if I
can spot a difference or if other dogs do this.
Perhaps the way to look at hugs is from the dog’s perspective of “what physical or emotional need does a hug meet”? Will it address hunger, thirst, safety, or reproduction? If not does it satisfy curiosity, appease fear, or stimulate play or caring? For many humans a hug is simply the best way to start or end a day, but for a canine, without arms to reciprocate or need to be meet, it is simply restraint and a jesture that is generally followed by paw lifts, lip licking, looking away, whale eyes or other behaviors we know to indicate unease, anxiousness, discomfort or warning. Looking at it this way, why would a dog even want to be hugged!
I realized years ago that dogs do not appreciate our primate hugs. When I stopped trying to hug my dogs they showed me what they liked and would press the flat of their head against my chest while I gave them a good neck or back rub during a “love session.” I figure this as a dog hug.
I also agree that it is a familiarity thing, and I doubt that any of us would enjoy strangers randomly coming up to us and trying to hug us. In fact, I distinctly remember being taught the response that sort of behavior in several marital arts classes.
Aliesha Shepherd says
Yes, I too have recently experienced quite the backlash for saying that most dogs do not like to be hugged. I could not believe how insistent some people were that “that study was complete hogwash!” I had to sign off several groups just to keep my sanity. Props to you for keeping your cool.
Aliesha Shepherd says
I have learned to equate it to a dog licking their owner’s mouths. As people we don’t really care for that (at least “most” of us). There are always exceptions to every rule, but most of us tolerate licking on the face, but draw the line when their tongues hit our lips. The same seems to be the case for dogs and hugs.
Cathy Grahame says
My Pyrs love being hugged by me or my girls, but not while working. They are amazing sweet dogs! My Borders are a different story. The male BC is very sweet but hugs for reassurance. Our female BC is so wiggly she can’t seem to sit still! We aptly named her Sunny as she has that kind of personality. She will “smile” ear to ear and if one of her kids is upset she will hug them! If the Borders are working, they are focused and we respect that. Dogs are amazing. I learn so much from your blog. Thank you!
My sweet dog, Ralph, was recently out on a short walk with me and two young girls, who know him, came up to us to pet him. After a while, one girl draped her arm around his shoulder and hugged him. My dog is older, and I know he has shoulder issues so when the young girl started to go into hug mode, I was quite attentive. Ralph tolerated the hug very well, but I could tell he was not comfortable. True, I can’t say whether it was the hug or the shoulder problem that made him uncomfortable, but the young girl did not put any strong pressure on him and Ralph certainly was enjoying all the pets to the shoulder area that came before. I took the opportunity to mention that dogs don’t really like to be hugged because they think it means something else. To you it’s friendship and love, like when you hug your sister or your mom and dad. But to dogs it’s like “you’re trying to be the boss of me”! And I also mentioned not to ever do that if you don’t know the dog. Her parents were there, and reinforced what I said which made me feel pretty good…… whether I was right or not!
I like the bear hug analogy, and the headlock. Hug-lock?
Lane Fisher says
When Jolly pup was still alive and spry, we did presentations to children on safer ways to greet dogs. It’s asking a lot of a dog to sit in front of a crowd of little faces with wide-open, staring eyes, but Joll handled it well. Being ambassadors for rottweilers in this way was why we became a therapy-dog team.
One day Joll showed off his tricks at the front of a library common room that was packed with children and parents. Then he sat and watched me with a bright, comfortable alertness while I talked about how different our greeting behaviors are–that our direct approaches and eye contact bode aggression in dogs’ body language, and we’d be thrown in jail if we tried to say hello by sniffing bums. Eventually I got around to hugs. I asked the children if they thought I loved Jolly, and I got a resounding “Yes.” I asked if they thought Jolly loved me. “Yes!” Did they think he trusted me? “Yes!”
“And how do you think he feels about being hugged,” I asked, kneeling and giving him a big one. The whole room burst out laughing. I couldn’t see Jolly’s face, of course, but my husband told me later that it instantly was transformed in a miserable canine version of “Oh, geez, Mom, not here!” He set us up for a good discussion of how he might have felt if someone he didn’t know well had done that.
Perhaps the funniest thing is this: even though I was being deliberately offensive to make a point, to me, that hug still felt like love.
Jenny H says
I think that you are right re what a hug is and isn’t.
Very few dogs like being held in a tight restraint.
Many dogs like cuddles though,
Yes you can wrap your arms around them, but IF they pull away, don’t keep holding on.
Don’t ever try hugging a dog you don’t know either. But then I go so far as to say don’t even pat a dog you don’t know!
Along the lines of anxiety wraps I have known dogs who solicit hugs when the are anxious. My first little dog actually leapt into my arms and wrapped her arms tightly around my neck (and peed down my front) when she was suddenly lunged at by a passing large dog.
One thing which Coren’s article brought back to mind was when I did a ‘assessment’ with one of my dogs for being a therapy dog (ie going into hospitals and nursing homes) one of the things tested for was the dog’s willingness to be ‘hugged’ firmly by a stranger.
Jenny H says
And some dogs won’t even tolerate a touch:-( One Christmas when we were at my sister-in-law’s place her toy poodle came and sat on my lap. After a while I felt the need to move — pins and needles from sitting in the one place too long, and sore legs from having the dog unmoving on my lap. So as I changed position — wriggled a bit — I put one hand on the dog to stead him as I moved. And got bitten for my presumption! 🙁
Because of my reaction to this, I don’t get invitations to go back there again 🙂
Perhaps there is a difference in culture here in the UK, or it is because my dogs are very small, but I cannot recall anyone trying to hug any of my dogs. Children will ask to stroke them, and most will listen when I explain how to greet politely without “looming”, and occasionally they will ask if they can pick one up but accept that the dogs would really prefer them not to. Adults we meet wouldn’t dream of picking up someone else’s dog without asking. Friends and relations seem to read the dogs’ signals well enough to recognise that they don’t like being restrained.
I do agree that we need more specific language – there is a huge difference between the eye-popping, bear hug squeeze v. arms loosely wrapped and body curved to create a safe and comforting space. If hurt or scared my dogs will climb into my lap seeking the safe “hug” – I can’t imagine any circumstances when they would welcome the squeeze!
@ Lisa Reed, I think bodylock is more descriptive and gets the point across quite succinctly. Most dogs don’t like to be bodylocked and may react to a bodylock from a stranger or a surprise bodylock. I get that picture.
The other phrase I thought of was human-straight-jacketed. A little awkward.
Trisha, you can italicize words for emphasis, in general (ital). I can’t format it in your comment box.
I’ve started reading Eric Barker’s “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” blog, I like his style of writing about human emotions and behavior while linking to the science behind it in an engaging voice.
His “10 Things You Can Do to Make Your Life Happier” blog included hugging at least 5 times a day. A study suggests that hugging is one key to happiness for humans, at least. http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2012/01/do-hugs-really-make-us-happier/
So, in our house, we primates are hugging at least 5 times a day. When we’re hugging, Olive comes over and stands inside/in between our legs. It’s her version of a hug or bodylock 🙂
This goes along with the general (human?) difficulty in accepting different cultures showing affection differently. We see something “strange” to us and balk, or the recipient of our affection from a different culture balks and we get offended that they don’t accept our offering.
I’d be interested to see a similar study done on dogs being picked up. I know my dog, and every dog I’ve had, tolerates it at best but is clearly not happy (*especially* when it’s someone other than me), but maybe 20% of the time when held like a baby (cradling on their back) by me will relax for short periods.
Dr Cohen is so right! My champion mastiff developed a habit at shows of crawling into my lap, his front end on my lap, one leg on each side of me out the sides of my camp chair, butt sitting on the ground with his head resting on my shoulder. It was his form of stress relief and he did it to me even when I was in my recliner at home until just before his death.
So a doggy version of a full lap hug, BUT he hated it if I encircled him with my arms. Loved one or both hands petting and stroking and would nudge my head with his if I stopped, but not the version of arms fully around. I agree, it’s the trapped feeling they resist.
I only realized how much my dogs didn’t like hugs when I finally had one that did. My current 10 year old, large sporting dog, craves hugs. He will bury his head into my chest as I crush him with a hug. He will make purring sounds and if I stop, he will slap me with his big ol’ paw to continue. When I think how all of the other dogs I’ve had would either stiffen up or give me “the stiff arm”, shooting their paw straight as a rod so I could not get too close, it’s unbelievable that I didn’t get the message sooner.
I do think with all the horrible things dogs have to deal with in this world, ranging from neglect and abandonment to harsh training methods, it’s pretty wonderful to be debating the proper way to show a dog love. It’s sort of how I feel about people who dress up their dogs in little outfits. I personally don’t like it and would never do it to a dog of mine. But, at the same time, I remind myself that usually the people who like to dress up their dogs are crazy about them and just want them to be happy. Things could be worse.
One of my dogs will do a move from time to time that I consider his version of a hug to me. I have to be sitting on the floor for him to do it (fortunately the dogs sucker me into doing so often enough) and then he sits very close at one side and brings his neck and head in close against my upper torso/chest so that their is a slight squeeze to please the primate. And I suppress my instincts to squeeze him back (still not easy) and instead rub his chest and pet him in other ways I know he likes. That said, I am a cynical person and find myself convinced that a lot of his most cuddly behaviors come out when he wants to go outside for a walk or a sunbathe. He will get more lovey-dovey after he’s been pacing by the front door, but I haven’t let him out (for whatever reason), or we’re running late for our walk, and the second I’m done cuddling, he’s back to pacing by the door. Maaaaybe he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but it works a lot of the time. Somehow I find the time for a walk or some more yard time I didn’t think I had. After all, he gave me a HUG! : )
I just wanted to offer a different perspective on assistance dogs from that which you’ve experienced. I have a service dog and we are told time and again at the school from where he comes that they need down time just like everyone else. We’re made aware of what makes them happy and are encouraged to have play sessions each day. Also, I watch out for my dogs and always make sure they are comfortable, especially when we’re working. Yes, there are some handlers out there who treat their dogs like machines, but I believe it isn’t the majority of us.
As for hugs and the article, this is what happens when people argue from emotion instead of facts… wow. Anyway, no, not even my dogs, who will tolerate pretty much any kind of physical contact, don’t like hugs. They all liked to snuggle beside me and have me drape an arm about them. seamus especially likes this and perhaps because he’s part golden, he didn’t get the memo either. He loves to cuddle and loves to jump into my lap, but I don’t consider that a hug. Sometimes, when I’m putting his harness on him, I won’t be able to help myself and I’ll hug him, but he gives a tail wag and doesn’t mind.
One picture I saw in a newspaper of a hug between a dog and a human is something I’ll never forget. It was the morning after the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma city. There were many pictures in the front page story, but one was of an exhausted search and rescue handler and his dog. The dog, I think it was a golden retriever was standing, panting, it’s head down. The handler knelt beside his dog, resting his head against the dog’s back and shoulders, one arm draped across the dog’s back. I’ve never seen a picture which captured how much dogs and humans are linked together. The pair looked completely done in, absolutely sad and in that moment, they both needed each other. This is why I think our dogs put up with hugs, especially from those they know, because sometimes, we need it. Torpedo, my second guide was with me when I spoke to a class about guide dogs. This was a class of children with behavior and impulse control issues. One child walked up to Torpedo and me and threw himself against Torpedo’s chest. He was small and I knew Torpy could take his weight, but, though Torpy didn’t really like it, he bore it because the kid clearly didn’t know how to express his affection any other way to the dog. I did explain to the class that doggies love to be petted and that they like gentle touches and no other kids hugged him, but I think this is what makes dogs so great. They will put up with a lot and we should make sure they don’t have to put up with more than they’re comfortable with.
Christy Paxton says
Key difference to me is context/who’s approaching who. Just like with any other form of interaction, you need a willing partner! My Tawny loves pushing her head into my lap or between my legs, and when she does that I can do a lean-over, double-arm-wrap around her torso and that tail never stops wagging! However, when I approach her I never grab her like that without first gauging her mood and “asking permission” as I would any dog. I also will instruct people how to greet her when necessary, say if I see a head flinch (we did tons of handling exercises early on because she had lots of issues in that area eg snapping if you reached for her head [She now can be trusted with anyone, no matter how rude 😉 ]) Good manners are needed from both sides!
Susan Mann, Arie, Gethin, and Banshee says
I think a lot of the dislike has to do with restraint (and it seems odd that we humans- and apes- have developed a sign of affection where restraint is such an integral component!) and lack of control. I have two dogs (mother and son) that both initiate “hugs” on a regular basis. In this case it means placing their front paws on my shoulders and tucking their heads into my chest or under my arm. I respond by placing my arms around them and usually stroking face or side of body. I don’t usually squeeze, though, but do occasionally, usually when they are using head to push into my body, as if they want even more contact. Sometimes I swear if my young dog could, he would climb inside my body!
Kathy Stepp says
I have a large Samoyed (25 inches at the shoulder) who doesn’t love children, but has learned to be very careful around them. We were in a pet supply store. The aisles are narrow and the shelves very tall so it’s impossible to see anything coming around the end of the aisle. A very small boy (just about 25 inches tall) came running around the end of the aisle, saw my dog, screamed “I love him” and ran straight at his face. This child then threw both arms around his neck and smashed his face into Jazz’s shoulder. The poor dog froze. There was lip licking, whale eye and absolute stillness. He is a wonderful dog or that little boy would have been bitten for sure. The mother came around and chuckled indulgently. I tried to ask the child to let go – no way. His mother told him to stop hugging the nice doggie now and the kid would NOT let go. It was even hard to understand him because his mouth was smashed against Jazz’s back. I finally peeled the child off of my dog while trying very hard to explain to mother and child how to make friends with the dog instead of upsetting him. The mother actually told the little boy that I was wrong and hugging the dog like that was just fine! It was my dog!! I again tried to explain that the child could be bitten if he did that to the wrong dog. Her take away was that Jazz was a dangerous dog and should not be allowed where children might hug him. Just wanted to tell that story to people who would really understand!
My Rottweiler mix loves hugs at certain times. Especially in the morning when I’m putting on my shoes to go for a walk. He’ll lean into me and look back until I hug him. But I usually wait until he asks for a hug.
What a lovely thing to do on your Puppy Up walk 🙂
I’ve become quite frustrated at the backlash to that article over here in the UK. Everyone saying ‘that’s rubbish, my dogs love hugs’. Even trainers saying that because their own dogs ‘love hugs’ (when what they mean is cuddles initiated by the dog) the article is meaningless and it’s fine to hug your dog. I’m worried that it’s actually done more harm than good because now people are going to disregard anyone who tries to say that most dogs don’t like full-on primate-style ventral hugs (unfortunately people don’t seem to be able to differentiate).
I can see lots of problems coming from this 🙁
Joe Southworth says
I had a couple paragraphs on hugging a dog, complete with a pic of a little girl hugging a dog who is obviously not delighted with the treatment, although the dog is enduring it. Wiped it out completely trying to post it here. Bah!
Have posted it numerous times previously, trying to “spread the word” on FB when my friends have mentioned hugging their pets. The usual reaction is an oblivious, “Oh I hug my (corgi, Lab, G Shepherd, cocker, Rottweiler, poodle, mutt, pick any breed) all the time, and they love it!” Frustrating.
Kids will do wacky, dangerous things around dogs, so it is our responsibility to make our dogs as kid-proof as possible. Years ago I was walking my much-missed Beagle Retriever off-leash past a playground. Two ~10-year old boys shouted “Dog!” and started racing towards her. My dog briefly considered a threat display, thought better of it, and ran away as fast as she could.
I have no recollection of any parental input directed at the two boys.
In my experience, kids with a dog in the family can be the worst-behaved around strange dogs. If the family dog puts up with just about anything, they expect strange dogs to do the same.
Only once – out of my own dogs and many fosters – have I encountered a dog who liked me to hug her. She was mine, chosen partly because of her shyness, and taught me enough to make that my foster specialty. Once she got to know me a bit, I learned that a gentle hug actually was something she enjoyed, and she reciprocated with paws on my shoulder and her head against my cheek, sometimes with a gentle cheek lick. (She seemed to know that mouth kisses were not preferred.) I think that her unknown first home had given her gentle hugs and taught her this, while missing almost all socialization.
I think this has been an excellent, well-articulated, well-reasoned, and informative discussion of dogs and hugging, but add me to the chorus of people who wonder whether articles like Coren’s do more harm than good.
One of my main objections is in presentation style- when complicated scenarios are reduced to simple universal statements, “Dogs don’t like hugs” the danger comes from the rules of logic themselves, because when a person makes a sweeping generalization like that, the exception actually does logically disprove the rule. People who know very little about dogs or animal behavior will have a very good excuse to dismiss and discount the more nuanced explanation because the universal assertion in the headline can be contradicted so easily.
Couple that with an article that won’t (and isn’t designed to) stand up to the standards of evidence found in a research study and people will be even faster to scoff and dismiss a finding that they find emotionally troublesome.
To me, the conversation about hugging has always skirted very close to dangerous waters because inevitably, the insinuation that people who believe their dogs DO like hugs must be obstinately ignoring the signs that no, they actually DON’T comes into play and people get defensive and bad feelings abound on both sides. The fact that this insinuation is true a fair amount of the time does not help win hearts and minds at all, it just makes people madder and more defensive.
I have always felt that the real issue is that many people are bad (sometimes REALLY bad) at ‘reading’ their dogs emotional signals, and that more headway would be made if pop-culture science reporting focused on that skill- “How good are you at interpreting dog body language, take our quiz” rather than tackling the hugging issue head-on with generalizations that half the world will immediately leap to contradict.
Count me among those who feel it might be better if we had a more specific word for the two-armed, restrictive squeeze around the neck and shoulders that most dogs dislike, too. “Hug” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, not all of them as unpopular with dogs as others.
Out of all the dogs I’ve owned, I have exactly one who truly didn’t get the memo. Otis has never reacted by showing signs of stress or anxiety following any contact that I would describe as a hug, from any person, at any time. Even in situations I expected him to object to, like the strange man who threw his arms enthusiastically around him immediately upon approach or the squirrelly seven year old boy who had one leg off the ground and was most of the way to mounting up and riding off on my giant dog. In both cases, Otis stayed relaxed and serene- he did turn his head and give the kid an inquisitive look, but the kid’s foot came back to earth (balance issue) and the continuing hug seemed to upset Otis not at all, who waited patiently for the kid to break it off and wandered sedately away when the kid’s dad corralled him a moment later. MY face must have been a picture, because the dad actually was apologetic. The adult who surprise!hugged him was rewarded with significantly more reciprocal attention than Otis typically grants new acquaintances. Far from being wary or offended, he approached the man happily several more times, solicited more physical contact, and has done so every time we’ve run into him since.
My incredibly friendly, cuddle loving Sandy dog would have FLIPPED out in either of these scenarios and been quite frightened. She loves physical contact, never met a stranger, and has a personality much like a golden retriever’s but even so a true two-armed hug obviously makes her slightly uncomfortable even from a trusted person in a comfortable setting (though she would rather DIE than actually object to an expression of human affection especially from a known person). To me, at least this is obvious. She loves some forms of one-armed contact that might be called hugs, and she is the queen of full-body contact snuggling, but if I were to throw my arms around her like I do Otis, she would close her mouth and widen her eyes and just endure every second of it.
Of all the dogs I have ever owned, Otis is the only one who seeks a true, two-armed, bent-at-the-waist, over his back hug. It wasn’t anything I have done with previous dogs, (probably MY early dog socialization, but I’ve always been a petter, a neck and butt rubber, or one relaxed arm rester, not a hugger of dogs) and I might never have discovered this preference if I hadn’t given in to a moment of impulse when he was newly adopted and trying to scratch at his chest with a back paw. Because of his unique proportions, he can’t even get close, and seeing him waving an ineffectual paw in the general direction of his belly prompted me to laugh a bit and then lean over to rub his chest. The fact that he has a 44″ chest (I had to measure for a coat) means that to reach his belly and chest, I have to wrap my short little T-Rex arms around him with my torso right against his back or side. My arms barely meet around the deepest part of his chest. Rather than enduring the contact for a moment in service of addressing an itch, Otis obviously loved it, and he trotted out this new trick he’d taught me several more times that evening- walking in front of me, catching my eye, and waving a paw with less and less focused intent at his belly, then happily leaning in to his standing chest and belly rub.
He ‘asks’ for this treatment every single day by making eye contact and a token wave of his back paw, then he leans in, eyes half-closed and face relaxed. He prompts the hugger (usually my husband or I, but not always) to continue if we break off contact by nudging with his nose, tucking his head under our arms and leaning his torso back into position against us. He likes hugs. He truly does.
I’ve always suspected that part of it is sheer size. It would take a very strong person to actually restrain Otis, and he just doesn’t feel as physically vulnerable or ‘loomed over’ as a smaller dog would. There is zero chance that I will lose my balance leaning over Otis the way I might over shorter Sandy because he’s so tall that even with my torso touching his back, my weight is still well back on my feet. It’s also true that we seldom hug Otis unless he asks for it- though he does ask for it quite a bit- so the contact may be more welcome for being self-initiated. But part of it is no doubt just a quirk of a quirky personality. Maybe he reacts well to surprise hugs because he is so familiar with his self-prompted ones.
I don’t know, but I do know that while his reaction is downright weird, in the dog world, the fact that he and dogs like him really do exist makes it very dangerous to be careless about how this issue is presented to people. Given the chance to dismiss an unpalatable, possibly guilt-inducing truth, many people will grasp at the thinnest of straws. Throw them a logical fallacy like a universal statement about what “all dogs” like or dislike, do or don’t do, feel or don’t feel, and they will be on it like a duck on a June bug.
Sara Nylund says
I have one lab who loves being close and hugs. She will throw herself at you, wrap herself around you, and crawl under you (a great excuse for not doing a plank or push ups) in order to get close. Cuddle in to you and have you hug her is her thing. Then we have our golden, the most placid affectionate guy you could wish for, but he needs to always have a way out. Being an introvert I can respect that while you might want affection you still want to have an exit strategy. Obviously they do not reason in the same way as us, but I do think dogs are extrovert and introvert as well. Which would mean they all love us but some need more space.
I think most dogs feel about hugs what most people feel about having their crotches sniffed. 🙂
A normal communication for one species can sure seem strange for another, can’t it?
Ok, so it’s hard to give a Corgi a “hug” in the way you describe a hug, because they are so darned short. But Jack, as I’ve said, hates any kind of restrictive contact. He likes a good manly scratch on the back of the neck and shoulders. But he doesn’t like head-petting and he really doesn’t like anything like a hug.
Maddie, blessedly, is one of those rare dogs who loves being squeezed, smooched, squished and hugged. It’s hard to put both arms around her neck, but she loves nothing better than when I kneel down and lean over the top of her completely, fussing and petting her while completely covering her up. She will try to crawl underneath you if she is lying next to you. Shove her head under your arm.
I say blessedly because it has made it so much easier to keep her happy as her DM progresses. She loves nothing more than being held and carried, and as we carry her more and more because she can move less and less, she is perfectly relaxed and content about it.
Hugging is definitely something we should condition puppies to tolerate for both the social aspects and the fact that it may become necessary at some point to facilitate medical care. That said, we should minimize doing something just for our enjoyment that makes our dogs unhappy. Right? Right.
My theory on labs and goldens is that dogs bred to hunt ducks and geese were bred to not only tolerate but enjoy being generally bopped about the head and chest area. Both waves and birds slap water retrievers in the face. I think I’ve mentioned that he retrievers I’ve known have all loved being patted on the head too, something most dogs find aversive. They actually squint their eyes and smile when you pat-pat-pat them.
Janie B says
My American Staffordshire Terrier likes hugs. If I could’ve attached a photo here I would have in order to prove it – he has a huge smile on his face while I’m encasing him in my arms. However, there are times he’s not in the mood. I can’t help myself from squeezing him (he’s sooo snuggly) but I try and keep it brief and will relax my hold quickly so he can move away if he wants to. Most of the time he stays right there with the tail wagging in a circle. When he’s not in the mood is usually when he’s stimulated by something else in the vicinity. Every dog is different. Certainly you should have a solid relationship in place before you even attempt a hug. As an 11 year old child I was nipped in the face by a German Shepherd I tried to hug.
Alice R. says
The real bonus for me of the original article, and this post, is finding many people who care what their dogs want, and read them carefully to discern that. There are big signs of what a dog likes and does not like, but these owners are discerning the finer points. So heartening.
Interesting post. One of my huskies and I are a registered pet therapy team. We pass the evaluation three times (twice for Pet Partners and once for TDI). In all cases the evaluators hugged him.
Wherever we volunteer, the likelihood of someone wanting to hug him is high and he needs to be OK with that. He doesn’t have to like it but he needs to allow it and not react negatively.
Rizzo is a pro and when he gets hugged, he looks at me when he’s had enough and I’ll step in and suggest some other way to interact with him.
A few comments: First, I wonder if something equivalent to what we call a hug is indeed in the canine ethogram. Handelman (Canine Behavior: Illustrated Handbook) calls “paw over,” when a dog puts on foreleg over the shoulder of another, “a dominance action, or an action intended to convey which animal controls the situation.” Abrantes (Dog Language) shows an illustration of a child hugging a dog, which “… may be misinterpreted as dominance with subsequent catastrophic consequences.” Zimen (Wolves of the World) labels “front feet on back,” and “standing stiff legged with one or two feet on opponent” as “Aggressive behavior generally with body contact, but biting not involved.” In all instances the foreleg of one dog/wolf is pressing down on the back or shoulders of the other dog. I’ve always thought of us wrapping a forelimb around the shoulders of a dog as something that dogs too, just in a different context, and with a different meaning.
Second, to em and some others, re whether articles like Coren’s do good or harm. I’m torn here, in part no doubt because I’m not objective. It’s an important point to make that implying “all dogs” don’t like hugging.” Doing so sets the listener up to immediately find an exception. However, it can be hard to avoid generalizations sometimes. I wonder how many times I’ve said “Dogs don’t like to be hugged”? I always try to say “most dogs,” but I would bet the farm that “most” people don’t hear the qualifier anyway. I went back to The Other End of the Leash, curious what I wrote in 2002. In it, I talk about how much we humans love to hug. So do other primates, but how when a dog reaches up a paw onto another it’s either about controlling the situation or during mating. I say “I do see dogs use it in the first second or so of a greeting, but they’re not necessarily polite ones. I suspect that in canid society it’s as rude as it is for us to push someone aside to get out the door first.”
That’s why I’m wondering if another term is more useful. It’s clear that people are defining “hugs” vastly differently, sometimes using it to include any form of cuddling whatsoever. I loved the “headlock” reference, because it fits so perfectly with how some dogs actually feel when they have a person’s arms wrapped around them. With squeezing. But of course, it’s not their head. “Body lock?” One of you mentioned that “hugs” are a form of restraint, and who wants to be restrained by anyone, even someone you love?
That said, I couldn’t agree more that learning to “read” dogs is perhaps the most important thing that everyone dog owner could do. Every good trainer and behaviorist I know agrees with that, and I can recount no small amount of wine-fueled dinners while brain stormed about how to do that. (Or, to be honest, bemoaned how few dogs owners are good at it.) Of course, the problem with hugs is that people can’t see their dogs’ faces. Out of sight, out of mind I suppose. Perhaps all dog ownership should come with a photo ID of owner hugging dog, dog looking directly at the camera. But ah, then, there’s the camera as a factor. Who said that studying behavior was simple? (No one that I know of, at least, not exactly, but I hear it implied relentlessly.)
Last comment for now: Ducks on a June bug? Love it. I had ducks. (Indian Runners and Moscovys) I had June bugs. Perfect image, em, thanks.
Gina Cirelli says
My blind dog doesn’t mind being hugged, especially during a thunderstorm, which really terrifies her. The other one just gives her put out face, so I try not to do it too much. It is extremely hard not to hug IGs. 😛
Isn’t hugging the whole idea behind the Thundershirt?
Trisha, the paw-over is indeed a strong social signal and the double-paw-over even more so.
When Maddie came to live with us, she was (and is) sweet and submissive, but Jack’s boisterous play (chasing toys, not her!) worried her and she kept trying to hump him whenever he’d run.
I initially tried to let them sort it out, and he started with gentle snarking and then moved up to a paw over the shoulder (something he’s never had to resort to before), and then moved to a double paw over the shoulder. When that still didn’t work, I stepped in and gently redirected Maddie to chewing on toys or an antler when his running stressed her. That did work, but the original point is that to a dog, paws over the shoulder very clearly means something and it is NOT “I love you dearly.” And it usually comes at the end of an escalating series of corrections that did not work, so it must seem strange indeed to them when we move right to that message without any preliminaries, or any transgressions the dog can think of.
I think the usual phrase goes with whether or not dogs like hugs: it depends. I do wish I could get a picture of my youngest dog when I’m bending over him hugging his torso. He is the one I would’ve voted least likely of all my dogs ever to enjoy this, but he comes into it and pushes against my knees rather than struggling. And he does struggle at other times when he does not want to be restrained.
This article about Coren’s conclusions was interesting, I thought. The points about his use of the word “data” and how randomly he could’ve chosen his pictures are well-taken. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/04/27/no-science-didnt-prove-that-dogs-hate-hugs/
Sara Scott says
Oddly, I have a dog that has an obsession with climbing in next to me in my bed. Must be under the covers and MUST be spooned in front of me. He’s big enough that my arm has nowhere to go, so I just put it around him. His head relaxes and he goes into a deep sleep when I do this.
Seems like a form of a hug to me. Not any other contexts that I can really see that he wants me hugging him though.
IMHO it’s a case of cognitive dissonance, not uncommon when it comes to dog ethology (and a whole lot of other stuff) and human beings. It can create emotional pain or difficulty when we are given new information, asked to perform a behaviour (stop hugging dogs), or are subjected to behaviour that doesn’t fit in with our current understanding of the world (my dog LOVES being hugged). It’s also a case of understanding that our own personal experience and anecdotes doesn’t negate other people’s experiences, science and trying to understand nature objectively.
Perhaps the most important aspect is that we truly recognize the dog’s ethology and make efforts to educate at grass root level. Many misconceptions and myths are abound where dogs and their natural behaviours are concerned. Dogs are commonly thought of us as hunters aren’t they? Actually, they generally behave more like opportunistic scavengers and more likely to raid rubbish bins than stalk and catch a bird or chase and hunt a rabbit. Same with rank reduction protocols and dominance based training, aspects of dog breeding, dressing up dogs in clothes, tail docking, ear cropping. etc. Cognitive dissonance.
If we are subjected to Cognitive Dissonance then we have three options:
– Endure the emotional conflict;
– Stop the dissonance;
– Get rid of the dissonance.
Stopping the dissonance would be changing ‘hugs’ to ‘hug lock’ or ‘head lock’ and educating people to look at this from a respective that they can understand.
‘When you hug a dog, it’s quite possibly the equivalent of me coming over to you and putting you in a firm head lock and restraining you.’
That sort of thing…
With regard to dogs and hugs I guess the sheer amount of evidence on the Internet of dogs being hugged and kids hugging dogs and resulting interpretation spectacularly misunderstood is concerning for Coren.
What to do? Say how terrible it is or try and put some (relatively) objective evidence out there.
The Great Catsby, yes, I’m going to talk about a cat here, has turned into a horrible vet patient because he HATES being restrained and immediately tries to maim whoever is restraining him. In an ongoing effort to improve everyone’s safety when he needs a vet visit I’ve been working on counter conditioning him so that restraint isn’t quite as awful for him. As part of this effort I’ve been hugging him briefly followed by a great reward. As I wrapped my arms around him this morning it occurred to me that few people would take issue with the statement cats, in general, hate being hugged. Most cats like cuddling but few like hugging. In fact, in 50+ years of living with cats I can’t remember a single one that actually liked hugs. Some tolerated it none liked it.
I wonder if our issue with dogs is how much they become extensions of ourselves. Cats always remain a separate species but in dogs we see ourselves to such a great extent that it’s difficult for many people to believe dogs don’t like the same thing we do. One book I read (I’m sorry I can’t recall the title or author to give credit where credit is due) described the loss of a dog as being akin to an amputation. Dogs become so much a part of us that it’s often hard to remember they are a separate species with different likes and dislikes.
My last big dog did have a play session with an interesting form of human tag once. Some neighbors had adopted a middle aged, slightly lame mastiff (though her original owners turned up almost immediately after the adoption, and they agreed to return her.) Since my Hans was opposite sex and very sociable, and also somewhat lame, my neighbor agreed to try a play session in her yard.
After initial sniffing, the two dogs worked up to their version of tag. One would put a chin on the other’s shoulders, and then limp-run away. The second would do the same. This went on for awhile, both seeming quite comfortable. I don’t know whether the chin rest was a playful equivalent of the forepaw rest, but I don’t think either one could comfortably lift a foreleg high enough to tag the other.
Carol Witt says
We have a 5 year old boxer female who won’t let anyone hug in her presence without trying to get into the middle of it. If my husband and I hug while standing, she will be at our feet whining. If he is sitting in his chair or otherwise accessible and we hug, she will work her way in between us and participate with cuddles and wet kisses. She will remain there as long as the hug is in progress. I have to say that she loves it, since she is the initiator.
To add to the discussion about generalizations, my large dog loves to put his head over other dogs’ shoulders. He also is a humper with certain dogs (thankfully not all). But after years of stressing that he was being inappropriately intimidating, I’ve come to the conclusion that that is not true for him. He is trying to play. It is quite clear in all his body language how happy he is and how much he wants to play. If the other dog gets annoyed, he thinks that is fun (thankfully he never gets annoyed back). But I’ve had to remove him from groups of dogs at times because he refuses to stop this behavior and it’s clearly annoying to the other dogs. Now, does that mean that therefore the generally accepted interpretation of this behavior is wrong? No, it just means that my dog is an outlier. And it makes sense because there are other behaviors he has that don’t mean what they mean with most dogs. (He’s the one who loves hugs. It would be interesting to see what other behaviors hug-loving dogs have in common.)
I think Coren’s article is a good thing. Anything that gets people talking about how to interpret dog behavior is good. And I bet even the people who are protesting the loudest will think twice the next time they hug their dog.
@Nic1: I think you are on to something with cognitive dissonance. When a new idea causes dissonance, the path of least resistance is to discount the new idea and hold fast to existing beliefs. Perhaps the best way to gain acceptance for the new idea (“most dogs don’t like to be hugged”) is to focus on how often dogs dislike being restrained. Many dog owners have probably experienced their dog fighting against being restrained, and formulating the argument that way (“restraining your dog causes stress”) reduces the emotional content compared with “you are a bad person if you hug your dog” (not your words, of course, but probably how someone interprets the message if they love to hug their dog).
@Gina Cirelli: Mrs. B put a Thundershirt on Red Dog once. The poor dog stood frozen in place and would not budge until the Thundershirt was removed. Her response was so dramatic that Mrs. B took a ceoo phone video. FWIW, we have had other dogs that seemed to find a Thundershirt comforting during thunderstorms.
@Sara Scott: All of our dogs enjoy a good snuggle on the couch, and will happily fall asleep with my arm resting on their side. They seem to interpret a draped human arm differently than a hug. I suspect that an arm-drape feels friendly, whereas a hug feels constraining.
Red Dog considers hugs either: 1) Unwelcome intrusion on her territorial integrity (struggles to escape); or 2) Invitation to roughhouse play. She has no hesitation about INITIATING her version of a hug, which consists of leaping into the human’s lap, placing both arms on the human’s shoulders, and generously slathering the human’s face (and glasses) with dog slobber.
Of course “ceoo phone” should be “cell phone”.
Rebecca Rice says
On the cognitive dissonance thing: I think that is a very large part of it. We know what we like and want, and just assume that our dog does to. I have run into this on my part. I have a very shy greyhound, and as part of her confidence-building training, I taught her an initiator signal so that she could control interactions. If I presented my hand to her and she wanted to be petted, she would touch my hand. Failure to touch the hand meant that she was too stressed and overwhelmed to find petting pleasant at the time. Sounds simple, right? It is in theory, but putting it in practice turned out to be much harder than I thought. Not on my dog’s side, but on mine. I learned that when I REALLY wanted to pet my dog, because I’d had a hard day, or she was just looking particularly cute and lovable, it was really really hard to respect her cue of “I’m not ok with this”. Even though I know about body language and behavior, it was almost physically painful on my side if I resisted petting her in those situations. Thankfully they never lasted that long, and she would initiate petting after a short time. Hugging, which is even more engrained in us primates as a pleasurable, vital social bond, would be even harder to deny, I would think.
As to reading dog body language: I’ve always been curious why this isn’t done in dog training classes. Have the first session be a lecture with basic examples of body language, so that students could read their dogs better during training. It seems obvious to me, but since no one seems to do it, I am assuming there is some reason not to. But the number of times people have said to me that their dog is being “defiant” or “stubborn”, when the body language reads “scared, overwhelmed, shut-down” is amazing, and would be vastly helped if they understood that and modified their training approach to help their dogs out of that situation.
I was frustrated by the pushback with this round, some of which came from sources that I felt should be more circumspect.
I know this is heavy-handed, but when people ask me about the veracity of the claim that dogs don’t like hugs, I outline the reasoning, acknowledge the exceptions, and then point out that hundreds of thousands of American kids get bit in the face every year because they think it’s okay to wrap their arms around the dog. I just want people to get past their own sense of hurt (“I love hugging my dog, how dare anyone suggest they don’t like it”) to the real safety issue. It isn’t whether adults should hug their dogs for me, it’s whether it’s okay to ignore the risks to children.
Anyway, thanks for your persistence in putting this information out there. I’m with you, Trisha!
I totally agree with you. I was actually a bit angry at some of the articles, in particular the ones that seemed to want to invalidate Dr. Coren’s lack of empirical validity. I would dare say that most of the dog owners in this country are incredibly ignorant about dog signals and language. Attempting to invalidate what Dr. Coren observed seemed to me to do a disservice to dogs every where and to the people (as you mention, most likely children) who may be bitten because, as much as people have tried educate the masses on the dangers of “hugging” a dog, it continues. And what typically happens–the dog is blamed, punished, or even executed if they snarl, growl, or bite because “they should know better!”
I’ve retweeted and responded more about this article than almost anything else. It just sickens me that people want to criticize someone about the scientific method instead of looking at the bigger picture and how it can set back years of slowly educating the masses.
I don’t always agree with Dr. Coren, especially a recent post of his about clicker trainers, but the reaction to his observational study I truly believe was uncalled for and irresponsible.
In closing, I wish Trish would tweet–even if you just link to your blogs. Your wisdom needs to be shared in a forum that reaches much of the masses! Do it for the dogs! (:
I did not read all posts (sorry) but I do agree with Em about the double edged sword. Perhaps not so much the issue of the generalised statement but the “sloppy science”. I think it is a missed opportunity when an important issue is raised but sloppy science is used to back it. Having people be more aware of the fact that dogs often dislike being “bear hugged” could prevent dog bites. It doesn’t help the discussion if the ‘evidence’ can be easily discredited.
@Trisha: the camera issue can be quite easily erased from the equation. Shadow does not like camera’s being pointed at him, but when I have a GoPro on my body, strapped in a harness he does not even notice it. This camera has a very wide angle lens, so you do not need to point it directly at the dog. You could easily film people who were being asked to hug their dog, the trainer walking past and hey presto, you have the footage to analyse the dogs’ behaviour.
On a Dutch dog forum the discussion about this was rather polite, and a bull terrier owner shared this interesting footage of bull terriers engaged in hugging? I found it hilarious, I have never seen my dogs doing anything remotely like it…
As for my own dogs: Shadow likes to bury his head in my chest, nose in armpit to be cuddled. Spot – the moer shy one – does like all kinds of cuddles but does not like to feel restrained.
As for my view on dog kisses – well let’s just call it Shadow’s revenge for the selfie time 😉
Sally Hummel says
My Rugby James is a real snuggler….the first dog I’ve ever had like this. On occasion, when he is on my lap, he will actually lean into me for a hug. He will put his head over my shoulder, and tuck it down against me, all while leaning his body tightly into me. I generally lightly put a hand on his back, and stroke his head with the other….being careful not to hug him, but to offer pets that I know won’t make him uncomfortable. He doesn’t do this all the time, but 2-3 times every week maybe….generally first thing in the morning when we are both still waking up. As he’s a rescue (we were home #5 before he was 9 mos old)…he definitely has had his trust issues with me. I’ve learned how to read him to know what he will tolerate and what he wants, and how I can meet those needs without pushing him over the edge! We really have an amazing relationship together, that’s been hard forged over the years together. Appreciate your post a whole lot!
Kim Laird says
Dogs need to be acclimated early on to rude and inappropriate people behavior, like hugging. For their own safety, if nothing else. My dear Bridie hated hugs, being held, or carried. She learned to put up with my transient hugs and even enjoy them (being pressed against my legs was one way of acceptable hugging, and she would ask special people to hug her in this way as well.) I learned to protect her from other people hugging her. That was One of the biggest things for me to learn as a dog trainer.
Brenda swenson says
I just want to say..I have a 9 or old dog who’s name is copper, ever since he was a pup he always crawled really close to my neck and tucked his head under my Chin, and now at the older age of 9 he still will jump on my lap and stretch both of his front paws on either side of my neck and will tuck his big hole head under my Chin lol to me that is a hug. He will have no encouraging either, I will be drinking my coffee in the morning before work and will be in my recliner and here he comes, some morning he will literally push with his head just it seems to get even closer. He only does this with me and my kids. I actually look forward to it lol