Teach Your Dog to Give You a Hug
It can be hard to resist giving a dog — yours or someone else’s — a hug. If your dog enjoys being physically close to you, a hug can make you both feel happy and loved.
But not all dogs like hugs. For some dogs, a physical embrace may be perceived as an invasion of personal space or even a physical threat, especially when the hug is instigated by a person without the dog’s consent. This can result in a dog who is stressed or scared and can lead to a growl or even a bite.
Training your dog to hug on cue can give him a predictable way to interact with people, which can help him feel less anxious.
There are two types of hugs you can teach your dog to give. The first involves the dog standing up on his hind legs and resting his front paws on your shoulders, mimicking the chest-to-chest hug shared between two people. This option is good for quick greetings and works best with calm dogs who already know how to keep all four paws on the floor.
The second option involves teaching your dog to rest his head (and potentially his entire body) against you in a full doggy embrace. This is a nice option for dogs who like to be close to people and enjoy snuggling.
You can teach your dog whichever version is best for his — and your — hugging personality. Some dogs will prefer one type of hug over another, while others will enjoy both options.
The Standing HugIf your dog is already the type who greets you by placing his paws on you, training a standing hug is as simple as teaching him to associate this natural behavior with a cue. Big dogs can be taught to place their paws on your shoulders while you stand up, but with smaller dogs, you will need to kneel or sit to enable them to reach up and hug you.
One caution, though: If your dog tends to greet people by jumping on them, you will need to deal with that behavior before you teach your dog to hug on command — and you may want to skip the hugging altogether.
For spontaneous canine huggers, simply add a verbal cue, like “hug,” to a naturally occurring hug (for example, when you walk in the door at the end of the day). Say the cue as he begins to reach up to hug you, and then reward him with a treat or praise. Alternatively, pat your legs or shoulders to invite your dog to place his paws up; as he does so, say the cue “hug.” Pair the cue with a reward of praise or a treat to help him associate the word with the reward.
With enough repetitions, your dog will begin to associate the cue (“hug”) with the action of hugging you. The next step is to eliminate spontaneous hugs. Once he’s familiar with the “hug” cue, limit rewards strictly to times when your dog hugs in response to the command. If he gives you an unsolicited embrace, stand still or turn away and ignore him. Eventually, he will learn that he is only rewarded — with praise or a treat or a return hug — when you give the cue first.
The Resting HugThe resting hug is the version I most often encourage clients to teach their dogs. For this hug, sit on the floor or on a dog-friendly piece of furniture with enough space for your pooch to nestle close to you. Before you start working on the hug, make sure your dog will consistently lie down on command; this is key to a successful hug.
Smaller dogs can be taught to hug you while lying on your chest or stomach. This is how my Pug, Willie, snuggles in for a hug. I lie on my back, and Willie settles on my stomach with his head on my chest and his chin near mine. If you have a larger dog, or you would simply prefer not to have your pooch on top of you, you can teach your dog to lie next to you and rest his head on your chest or shoulder, or in the crook of your arm.
Use a food lure to direct your dog into the desired position, either in your lap or beside you. Once he’s where you would like him to lie, give the “down” command and reward him for remaining in place.
Once your dog is in a down, reward signs of relaxation, like lowering his head or resting it on your body, or lowering his tail. Pair these rewards with the cue “hug.” At first, your dog may stay in this resting position for only a short time, but with practice and rewards, he should increase the time he spends snuggling with you. Eventually, fade the lure and treats.
For dogs who enjoy human attention, just being close to you may become reinforcing in and of itself, while others may prefer to give you a quick snuggle and then return to their busy schedule of doing dog things.
One last word: It is important to respect your dog’s choice to move away. Keep in mind that many dogs will be more comfortable with a one-sided hug — in other words, your dog may willingly put his paws and body on you but may not want you to hold or handle him in return. In this situation, don’t force a full-on snuggle fest; just appreciate the contact your dog gives you. Other dogs, particularly those who enjoy being petted, may be eager to remain in your arms and soak in the hugging.
No matter your pooch’s personality, always pair hugs with ample reinforcement to make them as rewarding as possible.
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