To hug or not to hug your dog?

Are you a hugger? If so, who are you most likely to hug? Parents, children, pets, friends, neighbors, co-workers, the clerk at the grocery store?

Who are you least likely to hug? It’s OK to refer to the list above.

Hugging is human, but not uniquely so. In addition to our species, the behavior is favored by quite a few other primates, such as monkeys.

Dogs? Not so much.

Neither of our two passed pooches, Mocha and Lucy, wanted anything to do with that kind of closeness. Teddy, our 8-year-old Lab, doesn’t care for it either.

Try to hug Teddy and he flattens his ears, turns away and escapes as soon as possible. Gentle head butts, nudges and tail wags are his way of showing affection.

“Dogs typically don’t enjoy hugs, no matter how accommodating they are to the humans in their lives who insist on it,” Karen B. London, Ph.D., an animal behaviorist and professional dog trainer, wrote for

“To see a dog look displeased, or even disgusted, while giving one a hug is often all that’s required (to realize this).”

For us, a hug is more than a simple snuggle. When we squeeze each other, the pressure is detected by receptors that send signals of safety to our brain, spinal cord and nerves.

With dogs, the signals are just the opposite, says

“Dogs are cursorial animals, quickly assessing the current environment they are in. Their primal instincts tell them to run away from danger. When you hug a dog, you prohibit their ability to exercise this instinct.”

The “squeeze” we like as humans is too confining for Teddy. Our Lab, once free, usually lies on his side and taps us with a front paw until we start rubbing his tummy — a show of affection he loves.

So, hugging is out, but you still want to demonstrate love for your dog? The easiest way? Just pet the pooch regularly.

In humans, embracing someone releases the oxytocin hormone, which counteracts stress and calms us while increasing our overall well-being. As London put it when discussing dogs and petting on, “Petting our dogs can increase our oxytocin levels (and theirs!).”

She’s right. You can see Teddy relax his body as he’s being petted. I’m relaxed, too.

And almost every dog has that one place they love to be petted. Teddy’s “sweet spot” is his tummy. If he gets your attention, he’ll quickly roll on his side or back and start staring at you with his big, brown eyes, tail wagging furiously and one of his front paws reaching for your closest arm.

Honoring his request shows Teddy how much we love him.


Ways to show your dog love:

1. Petting

2. Daily walks

3. Playing 10-20 minutes per session

4. Give a special treat

5. Teach a new trick


Karin Spicer is a member of The Dog Writers Association of America. She lives in Greene County with her family and two furry pets who inspire her. She can be reached at

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