Does Your Dog Hug You?

Patricia McConnell has ruined You Tube for me forever. [Shaking fist in the air] “I curse you, Dr. McConnell.”

Thanks to the esteemed animal behaviorist, I hate to see someone hug their dog. But maybe there’s a way to redeem doggy hugs?

Honey the golden retriever and friends on the couch.

You think I’m being affectionate. But I’m just looking for a soft spot to relax on this very crowded couch.

Canines, Primates, and Hugs

Have you ever read a book that thoroughly changed your behavior?

I have. It was The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs (affiliate) by Patricia McConnell. In The Other End of the Leash, McConnell explains the dog’s point of view of common human actions. And one of those common actions? Hugs.

You see, humans and other primates express affection by putting their arms around each other. Or by embracing chest to chest.

But you won’t see dogs “hugging” each other that way.

To a dog, when another dog puts his paw over a shoulder he’s displaying social status. Or perhaps playing. But not showing affection.

And when do you ever see dogs chest to chest? Only when fighting as far as I can tell.

Honey the Golden Retriever and Bandit the foster puppy play bitey face.

You humans call this hugging? I call it a good game of bitey face.

McConnell backs up her point with several photos of happy people hugging unhappy dogs. Pups rolls their eyes back, stiffen their bodies, or lick their lips in the pictures. They’re definitely not smiling.

Now do you understand why You Tube is ruined? There are gazillions of videos of happy people hugging unhappy dogs.

Dogs Who Hug

I know some of you are yelling at me right now through your computer screen or phone. “Pam, you’re an idiot who doesn’t know what you’re talking about. My dog loves hugs.”

And I get you.

Because I live with an affectionate and cuddly dog myself.

What do you get from dog blogs?

Every dog needs a good cuddle sometimes.

But you probably have a few things going on:

  • You and your dog have a strong, trusting bond. Even if hugging isn’t natural to your dog, she understands you’re expressing affection.
  • Your dog, for whatever reason, is more cuddly than average.
  • And you, because you’re so in tune with your dog, modify the timing and style of your hugs to keep your dog from being uncomfortable.

My dog Honey will ask for affectionate touch by putting her head on my shoulder and leaning into me. If any dog likes hugs, it’s Honey.

Except that I’ve seen something else.

Strangers come up to her all the time. And some of them, after knowing her all of two seconds, want to give her a hug.

Honey is a sweet girl. She offers few signs of discomfort. But she’s not totally relaxed. And when I see that, I immediately tell the hugging stranger how much Honey loves having her butt scratched. Most people are happy to oblige for a view of the golden wiggle that accompanies a good scratching.

How Dogs Hug

Some dogs have independent natures. They offer and accept affection on their own terms.

But most dogs who have bonded strongly with a person have their own ways of showing affection and initiating closeness. And I think of these actions as the equivalent of doggy hugs:

  • resting a chin on your body
  • leaning
  • crawling onto a lap
  • sleeping next to you
  • and in Honey’s case, standing half way between someone’s legs
Golden retriever puppies in a whelping box.

Even when they’re not nursing, puppies often sleep on top of each other. Maybe a puppy pile is just a big doggy hug. Can you tell which one is Honey? Nope, me neither. But she’s probably the smallest one.

How To Hug Your Dog

Although I get an image of Dr. McConnell wagging her finger at me when I do it, I still hug Honey with a big squeeze around the neck sometimes.

But I pay attention to her body language. If she pulls away, I let go.

I save my hugs for places where Honey feels safe and relaxed. That huge festival with strange dogs passing every ten seconds is not the place for a hug.

And I let Honey tell me how she likes to hug. For her, dozing with her head on my lap or leaning against me is preferable to a tight squeeze.

I don’t think it’s horrible for someone who knows and loves their dog to give him or her a big, primate-style hug every so often. After all, if we can tolerate our dogs’ need to roll in stinky things or eat garbage, they can probably put up with a hug now and then.

Just stay away from You Tube. Because when you look at dog hugs with fresh eyes, you’ll have a hard time ever cuddling your dog again.

[Check out the video, Does Your Dog REALLY Want a Hug, to see some dog responses to being hugged.]

Your Turn: What kind of hugs does your dog like, if any?

If you click a book link marked as an “affiliate” you will go to Amazon where you can order. Your item will not cost you more. But I will earn a few cents commission. Thank you for supporting Something Wagging This Way Comes.


  1. My beautiful black lab used to put his head on my shoulder when I held my arms out to him – his version of a hug . Our vet used send the techs down to see him for hugs if they were having a bad day ( he was epileptic and sometimes had to spend the day at the vets)

  2. So interesting. I try not to let people hug the Boys, because I’ve never seen them get excited about it. Now I know I’ve been on the right track. Harley’s way of hugging is by laying next to me so our bodies touch. Generally he’s laying down beside my legs. I stroke him a few times and he nestles in for a long stay and we’re good! Thanks for another insightful post Pamela.

  3. These guys just want closeness. Torrey will climb on my lap for a bit, then she’s off. Roxy always has to be sitting right next to me.

  4. Duster will come sit by me and rest his head on my shoulder or knee, whatever’s available. Zach will crawl halfway up into our laps and rest his head on our chest. Canine love is wonderful!

  5. Wilson is a dog who prefers less contact, but will tolerate hugs from his family. Jimmy loves to be touched all the time, sit in your lap, etc. I would never let other people hug either one of them though. It’s my job to keep them comfortable and safe.

  6. Ruby likes to be held when she is scared, like a human Thundershirt. Boca is one of those “snugglier than average dogs” and loves to nestle right up and spoon me or tuck her head under my chin. She curves her body in and leans against me when I hug her, so I know that it’s okay with her. My elkhound, Freya, also liked hugs – I called her my Huggin’ Dog! Lasya, on the other hand, was not a fan of physical affection, even petting.

  7. CindyLu doesn’t like hugs. And yet, I *think* I hug her all the time – and yet I’m not really, it’s just in my head. I’d love it if dogs loved to be hugged, but we just have to respect what they’re comfy with. Honey is one awesome – and very lucky – dog!

  8. Bailie and I both have hugged from day one. Mom gets down low, we put our paws on her shoulders, nuzzle our noses into her neck and squeeze…we call them huggles since they combine hugs and snuggles. We were never taught, it just came naturally to both of us.

  9. My guy Garin was never cuddly, but as he is getting up there in age he likes to hug and cuddle in more and more. The older he gets the more we appreciate each other.

  10. I know most dogs aren’t really into the whole hugging thing, but we do make Rita endure them every now and then. 🙂 But we are the only ones that hug our dogs. Nobody else gets to. I’ve known a few dogs who were huggers though, or seemed to enjoy it. My brother’s golden seemed to love a good hug. She’d rest her head on your shoulder and just kinda settle into it. And our previous pups would both sit in the hubs’ lap, chest to chest, and put their paws on his shoulders and “hug” and kiss him. He LOVED this and is very bummed that Rita is not a hugger/kisser. (Pics of both girls “hugging” Daddy are on this post:

  11. Good point and great book – sure learned a lot from it. Our Sally was a real cuddler and she would hug us back. Neither Jack or Maggie are affectionate and Maggie is downright standoffish…you just have to go with the flow and take whatever she gives us.

  12. Kilo is very very affectionate to me. He jumps up and throws his front legs around my neck or forces himself onto my lap, and licks and nuzzles me. He will play by himself or snooze alone beside me on the couch or floor but every hour he likes to touch base and get a massage and cuddle. He has a look of sheer joy on his face as I rub his back and shoulders or tummy. I guess every breed is different and pugs were bred to be lap/companion dogs, so maybe they enjoy physical contact more than other breeds. However Kilo is reactive with strangers. Have a great week.

  13. I lean into my bipeds’ legs when I want a cuddle. I love it when they get down on the floor with me and I snuggle up against them with my head on their shoulder.
    I’m okay with most strangers giving me a quick hug and my bipeds always find a way of changing the situation if they see I’m getting uncomfortable.

  14. I am one of “those” pet parents. Bentley has always put his paws around my neck for a hug. Like Emma and Bailie, it is something that he has always done. His tail is wagging and he will rest his head against mine. Nope, it is definitely a hug. LOL!

  15. I think you are so right….dogs have their own ways of hugging. I just wish they didn’t feel the need to hug me when I’m trying to sleep! I need space and they need to rest their chins on my legs and such.
    So in return they put up with me occasionally hugging them. I also try to be aware if it’s making them uncomfortable and try not to overdo it. Except for Luke, who wants to put his paws on my shoulders and give me “kisses and hugs”.

  16. My lab/pitty mix Piper will full on wrap her head and neck around my neck the moment I wake up in the morning. It’s such a good way to wake up!