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Why do some dogs get anxiety when you hug them?

More often than not, people who love animals love to hug the animals they meet! Many of us agree dogs are among the best pets to hug.

Not all dogs are open to receiving hugs as affection–some even show signs of anxiety.

Why do some dogs feel that way? It’s because it restrains them, and they don’t see hugs as an affectionate gesture.

If your dog or a dog you meet feels this way, the most important thing to do is respect the animal’s comfort levels.

As we continue, we’ll learn how to read a dog’s body language. We’ll look at stress triggers and building a positive relationship with a dog.

Why a dog isn’t happy about getting hugged

More often than not, most dogs accept a hug, but they aren’t thrilled about the interaction. These dogs don’t view a hug as a sign of love from their humans.

It may be bizarre to our brains, but a dog’s body language is different than our own. For a dog, a hug makes them feel restrained–something that goes against their DNA as a descendant of wild animals.

Some dogs have grown to accept that a hug isn’t a threatening action. For others, it can trigger anxiety.

Recognizing anxiety in dogs

Common body language cues

Language is essential to any living being’s daily life, regardless of how it’s communicated. Dogs cannot sit down and tell you what’s happening in our first language.

So, it’s essential to learn a dog’s body language–the good news is that it is pretty universal. The breakdown of the familiar cues generally falls into a few simple categories: positive, negative, and anxious.

Positive cues

These cues are present when a dog is excited, happy, and energized (in a non-threatening way). This is usually in response to an experience or event– e.g. their owner comes home, they go on a walk/car ride, or they get a special treat.

A dog is very agreeable and trusting in moments like this. Some significant signs to watch for are:

  • ears held regularly or slightly up
  • tail wagging, standard height
  • relaxed body
  • no raised fur

If you are hugging a dog and it uses these cues, they probably enjoy the interaction.

Negative cues

Alternatively, there are negative cues that are important to learn and can potentially save everyone from an unexpected event. Dependent on the dog’s history, a dog can show these negative signals in any situation.

If a dog is displaying any of these signs, give them space immediately:

  • ears pinned
  • tail down tucked even
  • yawning
  • facing away from the situation

If a dog exhibits these cues while you are hugging them or if you carry them, stop and back away.

Common signs of anxiety

Recognizing anxiety can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re looking for or are a new pet owner, but don’t overthink it! Dog anxiety is very common to human signs of stress, with a few specific differences.

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Panting and cowering are two significant signs of anxious dogs.

Other body language signs may look like avoidance or even their body shaking or trembling.

*Note on body language: There are more body language cues than listed above, but the ones listed are essential for relating to a dog. These cues are how your dog verbalizes their feelings. Disregarding their body language can lead to potential harm.

Triggers for Canine Anxiety

Common triggers

Triggers are specific to the dog. Some of the most common triggers are unfamiliar humans, new environments, and loud noises. 

Even if the dog has become comfortable with hugging, it doesn’t promise the pup to be okay with hugs at all times. There are many possible situations, actions, or humans that can trigger an unexpected response from a dog.

Pay attention to your dog in these moments to pin down what makes them anxious.

Triggers lead to anxiety

Triggers are the dynamite in a situation where dogs already feel uncomfortable. The trigger ignites a fight or flight response in canines. This can happen when a dog gets hugged.

Some dogs can work past their triggers, but many will always have them. It all depends on the environment they currently live. 

The safer it is, the less likely the dog is holding onto their trigger and vice versa. That’s why building a trusting relationship will help the anxieties subside. 

What to do if a dog displays anxious behavior

If you find yourself with a dog displaying anxious behavior while getting hugged, the first thing to do is give the dog space. Stop hugging them immediately.  

Once you’ve backed up, take a look and gauge how the pup is feeling. Depending on what you can tell from their body language, you can try one of the following comforts:

  • If the dog needs positive words, share them
  • stay quiet, and sit in a non-threatening way
  • leave the room or let them flee to a safe space for them

Those are some of the most common needs for a dog with anxiety. Make sure to rely on your knowledge of how to calm your dog to serve the pup best at the moment. 

Ask the owner for advice if it’s a dog you are meeting for the first time.

Building Trust and a Positive Relationship

Importance of positive reinforcement training

Building a positive and trusting relationship with your dog will help with their anxieties. Positive reinforcement is a great way to earn their trust.

Positive reinforcement is a training methodology in which you reward a dog for completing expected tasks or commands. This training opens teaches dogs that specific behavioral expectations make their owner happy, them happy, and everyone is safe. 

All of this, with time, lets the dog know the boundaries without any repercussion of possible triggering consequences. 

Dogs generally excel with this training style, too. Just give them some time to pick up the concept. 

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Tips for using positive reinforcement 

Start small with doable repetitive actions with a lot of chances for reward. Not chasing after animals while on a walk, responding to commands the first time, greeting people appropriately–any expectation that gets met gets rewarded.

Use something the dog is naturally excited about; food, play, and even a fun command like a high five are great ways to celebrate that your pup did something positive.

Reserve the reward for positive reinforcement specifically–this will help a positive trigger in your dog’s brain, and they are more likely to continue to engage with the training.

How cues can indicate a dog’s level of comfort or discomfort

Cues are essential to learn and pay attention to with any dog. These cues, or body language signals, can reveal a lot about an animal, whether you know the dog or are meeting them for the first time.

The plus side of learning cues it’s pretty comparable to human body language. To introduce the comparison, here are two simple examples of stress.

Discomfort

One, you meet someone new–they press into subjects you’re uncomfortable sharing. You try to redirect the conversation a few times, but they continue. 

As they dive deeper, you become even more anxious and get angry. No longer responding calmly, you say something rude back, and the meeting erupts into a fight.

Two, at a family party, a relative who continues to question every part of your life begins a conversation. You politely deflect questions and show signs of discomfort–shifting your body, looking around, etc. 

Yet, they continue to dive deeper to the point where you respond with something offensive, or you bear through until it ends, straining the relationship further.

Explanation, In both instances, and for some dogs getting hugged, the initial signs of discomfort are essential to know and respect before it escalates into a potentially unpredictable situation.

Comfort

Flip the two scenarios into positive situations–meeting a new person who recognizes and respects your boundaries. Not only that, they take the time to apologize and redirect the conversation themselves. 

Or the family member that checks in with you and cheers you on regardless of where you are. 

The positive alternative to the two scenarios builds a comfort level in the relationship, which leads to a stronger bond in the long run. The same is accomplished by respecting a dog’s boundaries and understanding its body language.

Conclusion

Not all dogs, whether we like it or not, recognize hugs as a form of affection. For the dogs that are anxious while getting hugged, it is best to find another way to showcase your love or appreciation of them.

Eventually, some dogs may recognize it as a safe form of affection, but until then, continue to build your relationship and learn to read their body language. Respect the dog’s boundaries, always.

As a positive relationship grows between you, you’re likely to see less anxiety with a dog. They may accept a hug from you lovingly one day, but again, it’s okay to show them love in different ways they’ll appreciate.