We teach children that one way to show affection is through hugging. And understandably, kids in turn often try to hug dogs much like they’d snuggle with a beloved stuffed animal. It’s a sweet image.
A couple of years ago, though, a study came out indicating that dogs actually dislike hugs. The study, written by animal behaviorists and dog cognition scientists, was based on data showing that dogs typically show stress behaviors— such as yawning, pinning their ears back, licking their lips, or showing the whites of their eyes—when hugged.
Many people were in disbelief at the study results, claiming their dogs love an affectionate squeeze — and they pointed out that the data wasn’t from a peer-reviewed study. Still, experts generally agree it’s best to avoid hugging dogs. According to Decoding Your Dog, a book from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists: “[While a] dog may tolerate hugging from adults, a hug may be unwanted and threatening from a child. Remember, hugging is not a natural behavior for dogs. Although they may learn to enjoy the interaction, some do not, especially from unfamiliar people and children.”
So, when helping a child navigate their relationship with a dog, communicate that a pet may feel uncomfortable with too much physical contact—especially when they’re getting to know one another.