To Hug or Not To Hug | Doggy Day Care

This blog is written by Michelle Barrera, Operations Manager at Pet Camp.

By now, many of us have seen the various articles out regarding hugging dogs. Apparently, we’ve all been doing it wrong; that is, hugging our 4-legged best friends. A recent New York Times article written by Christine Hauser (Should You Hug Your Dog? – The New York Times) cites Stanley Coren, a psychology professor from the University of British Columbia, whose blog clearly discourages hugging dogs from a scientific point of view (The Data Says “Don’t Hug the Dog!” | Psychology Today). In it, he describes dogs as being “cursorial animals,” meaning physiologically adapted to run away from threats as the first line of defense. Hugging a dog, he says, hinders their ability to do so, thereby causing stress and anxiety.

As you can imagine, there was quite a bit of back-and-forth between dog trainers, animal behaviorists, pet parents, and those of us in doggy day care (or doggie day care – however you spell it) and overnight care (or dog lodging or dog boarding) who opined on the article; some folks cried foul, while others praised the professor’s blog as giving sage advice. My personal feeling? Just like with people, it really depends on the individual dog, the hugger, and the circumstance. We’ve all known people who are self-described “huggers;” people who, given half the chance, would gladly wear a sandwich board advertising “free hugs!” to everyone getting off the trains at a downtown BART station.

I’ve had housemates who wanted to hug every time they got home from school, work, or wherever else they came from, as if we hadn’t seen each other in days even though it may have only been ten minutes. Alternatively, some folks would just rather not. Personally, I’ve never been much for hugging, and apparently for many of the same reasons as dogs. Not so much because I’m built for running away (if you know what I look like, you’ll know this is definitely NOT the case), but because I find hugs a bit awkward, constraining, and just too close for comfort (gee, I wonder why I’m single?).

Having worked in the pet care industry for almost 2 decades (with 16 of those years being at Pet Camp), I’ve got some thoughts on this for those who care to hear them:

  1. Don’t hug dogs that you don’t know REALLY well. As much of a dog enthusiast as I am, as a pet care provider, I always respect the personal space of all dogs I encounter, even the office dogs I see almost every day at Pet Camp (Splash, Fitz, and Boognish- I’m talking about you). A good rule of thumb for showing affection to dogs in general is to let them make the first move; really, it’s like Dating 101.
  2. When hugging your own dog, make sure to read his cues. Is his body stiff? Is he practicing avoidance (averting his eyes, turning his head/body away from you)? Is he giving you the “whale eye” (where the whites of the eyes are visible in the corners)? Is he growling or baring his teeth (a no-brainer)? If any of that is occurring- I don’t care if you are soul mates- just stop. Being a good friend means knowing each other’s limits and respecting them. Luckily for your pup, the pros here at Pet Camp are well-versed in dog body language and know the best way to approach him and show him love in a way that he understands and appreciates. Seriously, all the counselors go through extensive training on reading dogs both in group play settings and one-on-one handling, so if you ever need a few pointers, just ask us the next time you’re in.

You may be asking yourself, “Wow, does this anti-hugging single weirdo actually HAVE a dog of her own?” The answer is yes, I do. His name is Magoo, and he’s the most perfect little baby doggie EVER (if I do say so myself!). Now you may be saying to yourself, “poor fella, bet he’s ever had a hug in his life,” and you’d be wrong. I actually do hug Magoo; quite often, as a matter of fact (I mean, come on, just LOOK at that handsome beefcake!). The key, of course, is following my own advice outlined above: I know him REALLY, REALLY well, and I know how to read his body language. I know Michelle and Magoo that when I want to try for a hug, I let him decide if he’s game: I get down on the ground, stretch out my arms, and say “come give momma a hug!” (Yes, I’m one of those dog people). If he wants to, he lopes over to me, puts his giant pit bull head on my chest, and stands comfortably while I give him a quick squeeze and a kiss. If he’s not feeling it, then he doesn’t approach and I don’t force the issue: simple as that. My favorite is when he initiates the hug on his own. This usually happens in the morning when I wake up. As soon as he hears me stirring, he gets off his bed (a.k.a the couch, ‘cause the humans don’t need anywhere to sit, right?), wiggles his way to my bed, and buries his head in my lap while I hug it. These “head hugs” happen every morning, without fail, and remind me time and again how lucky I am to have such a good friend in my life.

Thanks for reading.