Hugging Your Dog Can Stress Them Out—Here's What to Do Instead

Like it or not, behavioral experts say it might trigger their anxiety.

While it's only natural to want to embrace your loved ones, it's not always a good idea to hug your canine friends. "Hugging is a form of handling, and handling can lead to fear, anxiety, and stress in some dogs," says Dr. Vanessa Spano, DVM at Behavior Vets. "Similar to people—not every person wants to be hugged, let alone hugged all the time; dogs deserve consent."

woman hugging small dog in her lap
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How do you determine whether or not your pooch gets stressed out about hugs? "Signs of fear and anxiety in dogs include yawning, licking of the lips, seeing the whites (or sclera) of their eyes, backing away, trembling, stiffening, growling, lunging, biting, and more," Dr. Spano says. "If your dog exhibits any of these signs while being hugged, he or she is communicating that he or she is stressed and does not want to be hugged." Luckily, there are other ways to show your dog physical affection without freaking them out.

Know that some dogs don't like physical affection.

Above all else, Dr. Spano says it's crucial to remember that much like people, not all dogs like to be touched or handled. "Depending on the dog, this can extend to either familiar and unfamiliar people, too," she says. "Consider this upon approaching a strange, albeit cute, dog on the street."

Wait for their cue.

If you aren't sure whether or not a dog wants to be handled, Dr. Spano says your best bet is to let them approach you for affection. "Whether hugging or petting, I always recommend to only handle your pets when they solicit it from you, hence encouraging consent." she says. This way, you'll have no doubt that they're seeking out your attention—and you won't wind up rattling them.

Never approach a dog from behind.

No matter how well your dog handles physical affection, Dr. Spano says it's important to approach them head-on (or, face-to-face) to minimize any chance for anxiety. "I do not recommend ever coming from behind to handle your dog because that can be very startling for them," she says.

Show them love in other ways.

If your pooch isn't a fan of hugs, don't worry. Dr. Spano says there are plenty of other ways to show them love (without stressing them out). "Alternative ways to express affection include giving them treats, playing with them, and of course giving them praise," she says. And if your pet likes to be touched—but not hugged—spend time petting them slowly or brushing their hair to shower them with attention.

Pay attention to body language.

"Everyone should always monitor their dog's body language when interacting with them because that is a dog's way of communicating with us," Dr. Spano explains. "If, at any point in the interaction, the dog exhibits any of the aforementioned stressful body language signs, the best thing to do is walk away and give your dog some space."

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