Why Doesn’t My Dog... Like to Be Held?

Woman holding dog
Your dog may not want to be held, because he's had a negative experience in the past.

Who doesn’t love to hug and cuddle a dog? For us humans, it’s a seemingly irresistible urge to nuzzle these furry bundles of love.

But do dogs like it? To the dismay of many, no, they don’t always like it. Being held — which covers everything from a loving hug to a snuggle in your lap — can raise a dog’s stress level and cause him to show visible signs of anxiety.

When your puppy squirms when you pick him up, it’s not just because he’s being a wiggly puppy. Most dogs dislike being restrained — and who can blame them? But why is that?

Why Your Dog Isn't a Hugger

There are several reasons a dog may resist your efforts to nestle his fuzz. Some are simply natural. In his April 13, 2016, Psychology Today column, Canine Corner, dog-loving psychology professor Stanley Coren writes that dogs are “cursorial animals.” That means they are designed to run fast. A dog’s first instinct in the face of danger is to run away. And being held prevents him from doing that.

It's also possible that your dog has had a negative experience with a restraining hug. Think about it. Your dog may have been restrained at the veterinary clinic or groomer to make it possible to perform an exam or a procedure that the dog doesn’t like. Vaccinations, nail trims, having a thermometer inserted into his rear end — all of these procedures can be uncomfortable and unpleasant for dogs, and may cause them to associate hugs with those undesirable experiences.

Finally, your dog may dislike or be afraid of hugs from young children, who can be unintentionally rough with a dog. Toddlers can grab too hard, hold too tight and accidentally pull fur or ears or step on tails when they give a dog a hug. That’s why veterinarians and other dog experts everywhere advise parents not to let children hug dogs. It’s all too easy for a well-meaning hug to lead to a bite.


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