Should You Hug Your Dog or Cat?
Do Dogs Like to Be Hugged?
As a pet lover and primate, my soul craves to hug and cuddle my pets. I would just love to grab my dog, Dexter and give him a big squeeze. Or to pick up Nutter The Cat, hold him tight and smother him with kisses. Unfortunately, our dogs and cats don’t tend to hold the same feeling about a great big bear hug.
Pet behaviorists, ethologists, and pet and dog trainers have been speaking out about dogs and cats not liking to be hugged for as long as I can remember. Deep down, we know that the majority of dogs and cats do not like being hugged, but most will tolerate it. If they don’t tolerate it, watch out. They have some big teeth and claws! In 2016, Stanley Coren Ph.D. brought up the topic once again, reviewing 250 photographs of dogs being hugged and noted their body language for stress signals or signs of being uncomfortable. He concluded, “In all, 81.6% of the photographs researchers scored showed dogs who were giving off at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety. Only 7.6% of the photographs could rate as showing dogs that were comfortable with being hugged. The remaining 10.8% of the dogs either were showing neutral or ambiguous responses to this form of physical contact.” Visit study.
I know, I know, I will have comments that your dog or cat loves to be hugged or loves to be kissed on the face. As with everything, there are pets that don’t follow the rules and truly do love hugs and kisses. And for the majority of dogs and cats that don’t enjoy hugs, don’t worry—that doesn’t mean your pet doesn’t love you! He just doesn’t appreciate being squeezed or confined.
How can you tell if your dog or cat likes hugs?
Five tips for evaluating your dog or cat’s response to hugs
- Ducking or moving away: If you reach in to give your pet a hug and he ducks his head or moves away, he’s probably avoiding the hug. On the other hand, if you go to reach for a hug and he moves closer for an embrace, he just may enjoy a light squeeze.
- Feels tense or stiff: If you are in the middle of hugging your pet and your pet’s body feels rigid, stiff or tense, that’s a no for hugs. If he feels loose or soft, he may be enjoying his hug.
- Tight eyes, almond eyes or whale eyes: If you are reaching to hug your pet or in the middle of a hug and you see your dog’s eyes are pulled back, or see the whites more than usual, he’s not a fan. A cat’s eyes may get extra-large and dilated like saucers. On the other side, if your pet’s eyes are the same as usual and are soft and relaxed, he may be a go for hugging.
- Tight mouth, pucker, growl or snarl: Once again, if your pet’s mouth changes from a nice, normal, loose expression to a tight, lips pulled back or lips poofed out into a pucker, avoid the hug. If on the other hand, he still has a soft, goofy mouth, he may be giving you the green light.
- Ears back or down: Ear carriage is probably one of the easiest things to look at on a dog or cat. Think about where your dog or cat normally has their ears, and now look at them as you reach in for a hug. Did they drop down or move back? That would be a no. Maybe they stayed the same and even had a flirty move, maybe a yes.
When in doubt, just don’t hug. But don’t worry, there are lots of ways to cuddle and show your pet affection. The first thing is always to ask your dog or cat to come up to you for attention. Each pet is different in their needs and wants. Learn what really makes your pet tick. What does your dog or cat really enjoy? Is it a good chin rub? Or maybe he likes a butt scratch. How do you know? He will be light and soft in his movements, his face will be “happy” by being light, open and waggly. He also will ask for more instead of leaving. Believe me—most pets will be relieved if you drop the hug.
What does your pet enjoy for attention? Tell me in the comments.
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