To say that you love your dog is an understatement. But giving your pup an big old bear hug may not be the best way to show your affection (as much as you want to throw your arms around their neck and squeeze!) After examining 250 photos of dogs being hugged by humans, Stanley Coren Ph.D., author of The Intelligence of Dogs, determined that 82 percent of the dogs were giving off at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety. According to Coren, only 7 percent of the pooches were comfortable with the embrace. Coren’s research isn’t hard science, but it does call into question whether pups like that particular type of affection. So we asked Jason Cohen of Canine Cohen Dog Training in New York City to give us tips for how to figure out if your doggo really does want to hug.
Give them some space.
“Every dog is different, just like every human is different,” says Cohen. If you don’t know the dog, don’t pet it, much less embrace it. “Hugging is restraining to the dog. You’re taking away their number one response: flight,” he explains. But what if you and the pooch in question are old pals? Cohen advises that you should still proceed with caution. “Even a lovable dog could be having a bad day,” he says. And a hug isn’t necessarily the way to turn it around.
Get acquainted—or reacquainted.
Maybe you’ve been giving your pup hugs for years--and maybe all this time they’ve just been tolerating it! To make sure your embrace isn’t like the forced, awkward kind at the end of a bad Tinder date, read your dog’s signals. If they’re looking away, licking their lips, yawning a lot or giving you a whale-eyed look (where you see they whites of their eyes), they’re communicating avoidance, says Cohen, which means you may want to cut back on your cuddling.
Try communicating on their terms.
Instead of hugging, consider expressing your love in ways your pup can appreciate. Spending quality time with your dog—going on walks and creating a consistent routine—is the best way to show that you care, but if you crave more physical contact, then Cohen says petting is a no-brainer. Rub your dog’s chest, their side, under the chin (you know all their favorite spots). Another affection option they appreciate? Gentle ear rubs, which can release feel-good endorphins in your dog, says Cohen. And save those hugs for the humans who can actually hug you back.
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