Hugs and Hostages



I will be the first to admit that sometimes I want to hug our dog and cats (and other animals) like the Abominable Snowman in the bit from “Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters” cartoon.   But I don’t … because I know they don’t enjoy it.  And I would not enjoy it if someone did that to me.

Sometimes a hug to our animal companions is more like holding them hostage.  Obviously they aren’t really our “hostages”, but we may be unknowingly forcing them to interact with us in a way they would not choose on their own.

If you don’t believe me, have someone take a picture of you holding your animal hostage (I mean, hugging and squeezing them) and then look at the expression on their face.  Before you do this, make sure you know the stress signals that dogs, cats, birds, horses, (insert any species here) display when they are uncomfortable.  Then look at the picture and be really honest.  Ask yourself: Are they truly enjoying it, or are they tolerating it?

If I found out that a person I loved to hug only tolerated my lovey squeezes, I would put an end to it (mainly because I would feel weird now), because I wouldn’t want to push myself onto someone that didn’t want my affection.  Most people don’t want to hear this, but animals are no different in that way.  A lot of animals really don’t want to be manhandled and coddled.  Most of them will offer and solicit affection on their terms.

Instead of forcing ourselves onto an animal, allow them to come to you for affection and attention.  If you discovered that your animal companion really didn’t enjoy your hug-a-palooza, would you continue to force it on them?

cuddling pets
A humorous take on hugging the you-know-what out of your companion animal


 —> Please take a moment to check out this brief but comical and insightful post, You’re Making Me Uncomfortable!” to understand how hugs can affect dogs. <—

It’s not in a dog’s nature to show affection by hugging.  Many dogs don’t really enjoy being petted or hugged.  They tolerate it.  Many very tolerant dogs, who allow the “kidnap cuddle”, can go from tolerant to intolerant very quickly under “the perfect storm” conditions.  We must become dog aware and teach others how to do this as well, especially children.

Studies have shown that dogs who bite children involved “familiar children”, who “were most commonly bitten in relation to food or resource guarding and “benign” interactions such as petting, hugging, bending over, or speaking to the dog.”

Dr. Patricia McConnell, a certified applied animal behaviorist, provides insight into why dogs in general don’t like hugs, but also how we can tell whether or not our own dogs enjoy them.


Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured. Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs. Many bites happen when children are hugging their dog and holding him/her “hostage”.


Although some dogs are not reactive about being kissed and hugged, these types of interactions are potentially provocative, leading to bites.  In a study we published in a journal called Injury Prevention, we looked at dogs that had bitten children and found that most children had been bitten by dogs that had no history of biting.  Most important here, familiar children were bitten most often in the contexts of ‘nice’ interactions — such as kissing and hugging with their own dogs, or dogs that they knew. ~ Dr. Reisner, Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services


Next time, you go in for that monster love hug, ask yourself:  Is your dog (or cat) really enjoying your hugs?  Or is he/she just enduring it because they know it will be over soon?

Next time you see your child (or someone else’s child) going in for the monster hug to the family dog (or cat), please stop the child and show them safer ways to love an animal.

Let’s encourage our pets and other companion animals to offer affection and attention (that we so deeply appreciate), on their own terms.

Note: This is a judgement free zone! All comments and feedback are welcome! I deeply understand that most parents and guardians are doing the best with what they have, and what they know how to do. This post is only meant to help and educate families living with pets.

Learn more about dogs, kids, and hugs at Family Paws.

  One of my dearest friends and her dog Cara, displaying what it looks like when the person AND the dog are enjoying a hug.
One of my dearest friends and fellow dog agility trainer, hugging her dog Cara, displaying what it looks like when the person AND the dog are enjoying a hug.

“Recognising our own mistakes helps us to empathise non-judgementally with others and helps enable us to understand their issues.” ― Jay Woodman

Recommended Reading: You’re Making Me Uncomfortable


3 thoughts on “Hugs and Hostages

  1. Pingback: National Hug Your Hound Day! | Conscious Companion

  2. Pingback: The Passion of a Little Girl | Conscious Companion

  3. Pingback: The Passion of a Little Girl | Conscious Companion

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