New research shows hugs may give dogs anxiety. 10 things to try instead.


So it turns out, dogs kind of hate hugs.

You may be thinking: “Not my dog! She loves our tender embraces.”

But odds are, your pup is not nearly as happy about them as you are.

After watching students interact with dogs at a “Doggy De-Stress” event, psychologist and dog expert Dr. Stanley Coren decided to look into research on human/dog hugs.

Despite how often humans hug dogs, there was little research as to whether the animals actually enjoyed it. So Coren grabbed a couple hundred images of humans hugging dogs off the internet and looked for signs of stress (things like lowered ears, lip-licking, turning their heads away from the source of stress, and more). It’s not exactly a perfect science, but Coren’s methods revealed some interesting findings.

A pug gets a hug from its owner at a Halloween parade. Photo by istoletheTV/Flickr.

In 81% of the photographs, the dogs appeared to show at least one sign of discomfort or anxiety. Around 7% appeared comfortable, and the remaining dogs had ambiguous or neutral responses.

So knowing what we know now, here are 10 simple (and a few slightly silly) ways to show your furry friend how much you care, without trapping them in a serious stress-fest.

1. Take your dog on the adventure of a lifetime … or just a walk.

Taking your dog for frequent walks can promote a healthy digestive system, keep their weight under control, prevent hyperactive behavior, and fosters a strong bond between the two of you.

2. Welcome them home sweet home.

The best way to show a dog you care is to make sure it has a safe, loving home. Even if you don’t have the time or resources to be a pet parent, you can support the dogs in your community by volunteering or donating supplies to a local rescue.

These strays picked up by an animal shelter await forever homes. Photo by Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images.

3. Listen to “Lemonade” with them.

The music of Beyoncé is the greatest gift you can give a human, plant, or animal. Nothing says, “I love you” like inviting your friends, (furry and otherwise) to get in formation.

GIF from Beyoncé’s “Formation.”

4. Teach your old dog (or young dog) some new tricks.

Learning new tricks and skills can provide a dog with much needed mental stimulation. Depending on the trick, it can improve their physical stamina as well. And knowing how to “shake hands” or “play dead” may prove useful when care providers like the groomer or the vet need to assess your pet.

Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images.

5. Give them a j-o-b.

For some dogs, learning tricks isn’t enough, and they need the thrill and challenge of a K-9-to-5. Whether it’s chasing sheep, fielding golf balls, sniffing out cancer, or cheering up residents at a hospital or nursing facility, every pup deserves the positive feeling that comes from a hard day’s work.

A South Korean girl holds her trainee guide dog during International Guide Dog Day. Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images.

6. Roll down the windows and roll through town.

Some dogs love the wind in their face and plenty of things to see and bark at from the comfort of the backseat. Bonus points if you avoid the route to the vet.

Photo by Daniel Ramirez/Flickr.

7. Be their wing-human at the dog park.

The dog park is a great place for your dog to expend some energy, smell all the smells, and play with a bunch of new friends. These interactions allow your dog to practice reading dog social cues and body language, a useful skill that could protect them from aggressive animals.

You don’t see much of this at the dog park, but maybe you’ll get lucky.

8. Be the bearer of belly rubs.

While hugs may make your dog a little nervous, belly rubs could have the opposite effect. When a dog is comfortable with the way they’re being touched, they may roll on their bellies as a submissive display and to increase belly access. If you’re meeting a dog for the first time, just make sure to watch for signs of stress, even during a belly-rubbing sesh.

Photo by Jen Arbo/Flickr.

9. Write them an impassioned letter telling them how much you care.

They can’t read, but they’ll appreciate the effort. Especially if your paper goods smell like treats.

GIF from “Adventure Time.”

10. Better yet, just give your dog some treats.

Belly rubs, walks, tricks … it’s all just a long con for the thing your dog wants most: treats. Don’t be stingy. After all, he’s your best friend.

And after all of those potentially stressful hugs, you kind of owe him one.


This one goes out to my dog, Jax, who I promise to stop hugging, though it will be really, really hard.

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