The dogosphere was a-howlin’ recently over a report that our mandated best friends, those cute, cuddly furballs we often can’t keep our hands off, actually loathe being hugged. Wha? How can that be? Humans hug; chimps hug; apes grip, grope and squeeze, why not dogs? Just look at their behaviour at the dog park with their four-legged friends, they also — wait. No, they don’t. Well, they do, but a grab-and-grapple means something much different than the cheek-squeezing adoration we humans reserve for pups and babes.
Dogs will occasionally wrap their paws around one another as a sign of dominance, control or status. In worst-case scenarios, it can signal the start of an ugly brawl. But they do not envelope one another as a sign of affection.
Even Sierra, the most even-tempered, easygoing, laid-back canine we’ve ever cared for showed a bit assertiveness recently when her best bud Quinn started acting like a bratty little brother. The two love to run and romp, chase and challenge one another at the park every morning. But when Quinn started acting too big for his curly breeches and she’d had enough, Sierra, who towers over the terrier, draped an arm over the hyper hound as warning he needed to chill.
But because she’s serene Sierra, that’s where the course correction ended. She’s far too sweet to get sore, either at other dogs or touchy-feely humans like us who love to pull her in and squeeze her tight. It’s tough to imagine she merely tolerates our odd show of endearment, but a little observance goes a long way to understanding her — and other dogs’ — ambivalence about the behaviour.
The report included photos of dogs being snuggled and the owners were aghast at what they saw (since they don’t see their pooch’s face when they hug him). Their dogs were leaning away from them, their ears were back, their eyes were tense and their mouths were closed —clear signs the embrace was not embraced. But not all breeds are averse. Other photos revealed hugged hounds with relaxed ears, soft eyes, tongue lolling and no leaning. The trick is to recognize the difference.
If your pup prefers to forego the grip, experts say you can — and should — still ease him into it (because you may need to steady him at the vet’s, or kids might suddenly overwhelm him with affection and he should understand how to respond). Over the course of days or weeks, depending on his level of distaste, gradually put your hand on his shoulder, then his back, then his other shoulder, then a loose embrace, offering him treats, toys or words of encouragement as you go. Ideally it’s better to start in the puppy stage because squeeze play is an unnatural state for any dog. But with practice he may one day come to grips with the grab.
Good thing Sierra gives us a pass, because, after all, who would not want to wrap that beauty in a big bear hug and never let go?