Hugging! understanding canine body language

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I love to hug my friends and even complete strangers, maybe after only having a short exchange of words!


A good friend of mine told me about this “happiness guru” who says that if you really mean your affection from a hug, it needs to last at least 7 seconds … have you hugged someone for 7 seconds?

I’ve tried it, and it’s a l .o.o.o.o. n.n.n.n. g.g. time, even when hugging someone you know really well!

So once you’ve seen how uncomfortable some hugs can make you feel, now think about our puppies. Do they like long hugs? In fact, do they like hugs at all?

Many of you will now be shouting “yes! my dog loves me hugging her/him!” But my question to you is … are you sure about that? How do you know this?

While some dogs do adore hugs, others don’t.  Even dogs that seemingly love hugs may only be tolerating them in reality; and virtually all dogs may be uncomfortable with hugs if they’re in a stressful or unfamiliar situation.

Canine communication can be very tricky to pick up on.

Yes, we all know the obvious canine communication signals like a dog showing its teeth generally means “bog off, I’m not happy with you doing that!” But what about the everso quick signals you might not even have noticed … like the lighting reflex of the tongue flick across your dog’s nose? Or a yawn?

It’s relatively easy to determine if your puppy loves or loathes hugs, once you know the signals to look for.

If your dog does any of the following when you hug him, he may be anxious, stressed or uncomfortable:

  • Turns his head away
  • Closes his eyes (maybe just a partially)
  • Shows the whites of his eyes
  • Lowers or holds his ears back flat against his head
  • Yawns
  • Licks his nose
  • Raise a paw
  • Shakes after the hug, as if wet

Take the time to notice your own puppy’s response to your hugs, and stop if he seems uncomfortable.

What Type of Touch Do Dogs Enjoy?

In general, most dogs enjoy being stroked on the chest or behind the ear closest to you- this means you do not have to reach over their head, which may be stressful to some dogs. But remember, every dog may have slightly different preferences.

Ideally young puppies can be gently conditioned to having all parts of their bodies touched without a stress response. If puppies don’t experience positive paw petting and touching when young, they may have apprehensions about having their paws touched as adults, especially if touching paws was correlated with a scary or painful experience, like a bad nail trim.

My clients are always fascinated when I discuss canine body language with them. I tell them that all these very subtle signals are a dog’s way of “whispering” their concerns. And if we ignore these whispers … maybe not intentionally, because after all no one has taken the time to explain them to you, then these whispers will turn to “shouting.” And you don’t want your dog having to feel the need to shout.

So, the next time you want to hug your dog and whisk his cute little bum off the floor, think to yourself … is my dog really enjoying this? And look for those little tell-tale whispers!