The most natural way for humans, and especially children, to show compassion and affection is with a hug. It is second nature for us and, therefore, it feels natural for us to give our beloved pets hugs too. Unfortunately, for animals, this is not natural at all.
Why they dislike hugs
Dogs and cats don’t understand what we’re trying to tell them with a hug. Dogs don’t hug each other at all, and neither do cats. The closest they will come to this behaviour is when they’re fighting, or play-fighting, and they pin each other to the ground.
Cats and dogs feel trapped when we hug them, as we’re restricting the option for them to flee from the situation. Cats might retaliate with a nasty scratch and a dog might bite to get out of the embrace. What makes the situation even more dangerous is that your face is so close to his face and his teeth.
To take it a step further, a hug usually goes hand in hand with prolonged eye contact, especially as you come in for the hug. Although you’re only looking at your dog to give him a hug, he might perceive this as being aggressive or threatening.
You might think that your dog loves hugs but, in many situations, the dog is simply tolerating your affection. Look out for clues, like whale eye (the whites of his eyes are showing), his ears being pulled back or him freezing on the spot. These are all typical body language from a dog who doesn’t appreciate the hug.
For these reasons, it is extremely important to teach children not to hug cats or dogs.
Signs of discomfort
- Freezing the moment you give him a hug.
- Turning his head away when you want to hug him.
- Tucking his tail between his legs.
- Yawning when you come closer.
- Licking his lips and/or nose.
- Lowering his ears.
- Showing the whites of his eyes (whale eye).
- Raising his paw off the ground.
Just because you can’t give your cat or dog a hug doesn’t mean that you can’t show your affection. Here are a few ways to show your pets you love them.
- Have you ever noticed that your cat looks at you and then slowly opens and closes her eyes – like a slow-motion blink? That’s her way of telling you that she loves you. You can do the same for her.
- Allow her to rub against you whenever she feels affectionate. This is the ultimate compliment a cat can give her owner. She has scent glands on her cheeks and head and, by rubbing against you, she claims you as part of her family by putting her scent on you.
- Answer her when she ‘talks’ to you. Some cats can be vocal and love to ‘chat’ to their humans. If your cat is chatty, you can take part in the conversation, either by meowing back or by saying actual words and telling her that you love her too.
- It is very natural for cats to groom themselves and many cats appreciate a grooming session from their owners. Show your love by giving her a good grooming session with a brush or a comb.
- Have you ever noticed that your dog looks at you with soft eyes? You can return the favour by lovingly looking at him. You can even add the words “I love you”, but don’t stare at him – he might misinterpret this as aggression.
- Another way that dogs show affection is by leaning against you. You can also lean against him, just enough for him to feel you. Don’t push with all your body weight.
- You can cuddle with your dog on the couch or on the floor by allowing him or part of him to lie on your lap, or against you. You can hold him gently, but just don’t give in to the urge to hug him.
- Take your dog for a long stroll around the neighbourhood or the park. You can talk to him while you’re walking, telling him all sorts of stories and reminding him how much you love him.
- Your dog will also love your loving touching and petting behind his ears or on his back. And most dogs adore a belly rub. While you’re petting him, tell him how much you love him.
By keeping it simple and talking to your pets, you’re already showing them how much you love them – you don’t need to give them hugs. Using these tips will definitely go a long way towards safely showing your affection.