Should You Still Hug Your Dog?

Have you read the recent controversy about hugging your dog? Sarah Hodgson, author of the forthcoming Modern Dog Parenting, weighs in with how to tell if your dog loves or hates hugs.

Sarah Hodgson, Writing for
5-minute read

Hug Conditioning 101

On page 51 in my upcoming book, Modern Dog ParentingI offer a tip on how you can increase your dog’s hug tolerance, whether you have the urge or kids who hug dogs even when asked not to.  Here’s a little excerpt: before you give it a go, re-read the stress signs listed above and stop the moment your dog seems uncomfortable.

Before you hug your dog, re-read the stress signs listed above and stop the moment your dog seems uncomfortable.

If you’re working with a young pup, the pros would call this exercise desensitization. It can start in the breeder’s whelping box and should continue throughout puppyhood.  If your dog’s past this puppyhood primetime, and a little unsure of your intentions, take it slow.  The term for you is countercondit i oning, as you carefully attempt to shift his impulse from caution to connection. 

  • Take some treats and sit next to your dog—side by side, not face-to-face.
  • Pet her calmly, as you offer yummy food rewards.
  • Put one arm around her shoulder. Reward that. How did it go?
  • Keep the rewards coming, giving one-armed hugs until your dog leans into you.
  • Now try a light two-armed hug, keeping the food rewards flowing.
  • Once you get a tail wag, say “Hugs!” to initiate the fun.

If you’re smart, you can tell a non-hugger just by looking at them, no matter the species. (My BFFs not a hugger, and she’s no dog!) Non-huggers stiffen up when you approach them; they will either shoot a warning glare or look away. A person might turn away or step back; a dog might too or may growl or bite if you don’t get the message. 

If your dog’s not the hugging type, don’t take it personally. Maybe she’s a rescue, reliving a scary puppyhood memory, or maybe she’s restraint-sensitive. 

There are plenty of other ways to show your affection: just tune into you dog.  Maybe your dog loves playing tug, fetch, or chasing games. If your dog growls over other things, get professional help.  Growling dogs aren’t happy—they’re scared or frustrated.  It’s no fun living on the edge.

And promise me one more thing. Never hug another person’s dog. You wouldn’t hug a stranger’s kid, spouse or partner, right? Remind your kids not to hug someone else's dog too.

I’ll leave you with two perspectives from my colleagues, Dr. Jeff Werber and Dr. Marty Becker.

Dr. Jeff WerberEmmy Award Winning Veterinarian, reminds us of the importance of early puppy conditioning, and just how different kids seem to dogs who aren’t used to them.

 “Although I am certain there are dogs who don’t like to be hugged, I’m just as certain there are many dogs who love being hugged by the right person.

Personality and behavior in dogs is to large degree a function of prior experience. Often rescue dogs have had early negative experiences and may have difficulties forming bonds of trust. In such dogs, I wouldn’t doubt there may be many who are uncomfortable with hugs. When it comes to children, many dogs, and not only rescues, are wary. Kids are quick, they are unpredictable, and many dogs don’t even want to be touched by a kid, let alone hugged.

Besides my experiences with my own dogs, who love being hugged, I have experience with my patients who have been coming to since they are puppies. They’re not my dogs. I’m their veterinarian and sometimes I deliver discomfort and even pain. Nevertheless these dogs run into my arms, and hug me as I’m hugging them. They climb up my body to give me kisses. They LOVE getting hugged by someone they know and trust.”

Dr. Marty Becker, America’s Veterinarian, made a wonderful point that should never be over-looked, regarding injury and a dog’s reactivity. Never ever forget that your dog can’t talk, or overlook your dog’s sudden and sharp reaction!

“Is your dog pain free ?  Ever try and hug somebody and have them shy away and say: Oh careful, I've got a sore shoulder, just had back surgery or had a biopsy taken?

Too often, pet owners don't know their pets hurt (arthritic changes in joints, slipped disc in the back, nagging soft tissue injury, painful teeth and gums, ears that are inflamed, etc.) and have their feelings hurt when their pets shy away, or might even be bitten.”

Those are my Quick and Dirty Tips to decide whether or not you should hug your dog. Leave a comment below or on The Dog Trainer Facebook page with whether or not this advice has helped you. And feel free to ask if you have more questions.

For more tips from Sarah Hodgson, check out Modern Dog Parenting, available for preorder on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and Booksamillion.


Having trouble communicating with your dog or puppy? Sarah Hodgson, aka the Happy Dog Mom, is here to help. She's written multiple best-selling books on dog training, and her next book, Modern Dog Parenting, will be out Fall 2016. Stay tuned, and join her in fight against dominance-based training by signing the pledge on thehappydogmom.com.