Hugger or Hater?

Is your dog a cuddle monster or a prickly pear? While many dogs enjoy hugs with their humans, there are some that don’t. How can you tell? With it being National Hug Day (21st January), we wanted to share just a few ways you can tell if your dog wants to snuggle.

An easy one to start with – let your dog come to you for fuss. Dogs are much better at judging their comfort level than we are. By letting them approach you, you’re not invading their space. If your dog comes up to you, great! If not, leave them to some alone time. They may be in a bit of pain or just not feel like interacting. Let’s be honest, we all have those moments. And, just like us, even the cuddliest pup will sometimes want a bit of alone time.

So, your dog has come up to you and you’re giving them some fuss. How do you know when they’ve had enough? Knowing some dog body language will help. Common signs that your dog would like a break are licking their nose/lips, turning away from you, and yawning. If your dog is showing any of these, take your hands away for a few seconds. They may look towards you or lean in to show they would like you to continue. They may have a moment of stillness. Or they may also move away. Stopping the cuddle for a few seconds allows the dog time to decide what they’d like. Should they decide to move away, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong. Your dog just may not be comfortable with touch at that time.

A full-on bear hug is a bit of a different story. For dogs, that feeling of being fully surrounded isn’t as comforting as it can be for humans. Plus if you are properly hugging them, you won’t be able to see any subtle body language. You may have seen the videos online of children hugging dogs. For the less knowledgeable, it may appear to be an adorable display of affection. But for those with a bit more canine knowledge and understanding, it can be terrifying to see. The dogs in those videos will usually display lip licking, trying to move away, and a few other stress signals. You can often see the dog tense up – much in the way you might when receiving unwanted contact. Some dogs will take it as far as baring their teeth or growling. By learning the early signs that your dog is uncomfortable, you can avoid putting them in that situation.

If you want a way to make the time you spend close together more meaningful, there are some positive alternatives to hugging. Tellington Touch, or Ttouch, is a way of connecting with your dog. There are some amazing courses online to help teach this method of interaction. For a dog new to Ttouch, the recommendation is 3 touches and move hands away. Give them that moment to adjust. Another way is through canine massage. While this is best learnt in person, there are distance courses available. The principles you will learn with both these practices involve listening to the dog. Letting them guide you is the foundation.

Whether you are a hugger or not, let your dog tell you if they are happy with your physical contact. Don’t be disappointed if your dog doesn’t want to cuddle. You have a myriad of ways to connect, find the one that makes you both happy.