1. Home
Amy Shojai

DON'T Hug Your Dog Day! DANGER!

By April 10, 2012

Follow me on:

hugging dogI often receive press releases from all sorts of pet product and/or service companies asking me to write about a new (fill in the blank) and help promote their cause. Many times, it's a worthy event or interesting and beneficial product that would help pet parents and their puppies. But sometimes, the events are not well thought out and actually could cause harm to the puppies involved--or to owners.

I'm a fan of healthy treats for pets--it helps promote the bond we share--and have long been a fan of the great nutritional research performed by the major pet food companies. So I was surprised to receive information encouraging me to promote "Hug Your Dog Day" on April 10 (today) sponsored by Purina's Beneful Baked Delights, their new line of treats for dogs.

While I've not tried the treats (nor has my dog!), I'm sure they're a fine product. The promotion, though, has LIABILITY written all over it! I truly cannot believe the company's animal behavior experts signed off on this promotion, and encouraged dog owners all over the country to do so--not only hug their dogs, but take a picture of the event and post on the company's Facebook page.

Dogs are NOT primates. Hugging is NOT a behavior dogs welcome. In dog language, a "hug" is used during mating. It is also used during capture of prey. Finally, it's used during fights.

Many thousands of children each year get bitten in the face while trying to show their love by hugging their dogs. Here are 9 tips to prevent dog bites and protect your children. You'll notice that one of the tips addresses hugs!

I shared my concerns not only with my behavior colleagues and now with you, but privately first with the Purina Beneful contact person. I specifically asked for feedback from the veterinary behaviorist or other consultant justifying the safety of this promotion. The PR professional responded by saying that the promotion didn't require hugs and you could participate instead with a variety of pictures with captions, hashtags, posts and the like. GOOD! So promote THAT!

However, her response does not address the fact this promotion encourages dog-dangerous behavior and may result in injury to owners and as a result may cause a dog to lose his home or even his life.

This is incredibly irresponsible. To say I'm disappointed is too mild. My colleagues were equally appalled. Please spread the word about the dangers inherent in this practice, and especially this promotion.

Please, DO love your puppies but take a lesson from these 12 ways puppies show love. You'll notice there are no hugs included.

I would still welcome a response from a veterinary behaviorist or other behavior professional from the company explaining and (hopefully) justifying this promotion. In the past I've always found Purina to be responsible not only in terms of nutrition but all aspects of pet care including behavior. The old saying, "There's no such thing as bad publicity" sometimes just ain't true.

EDIT: I just received this response from Kristin Flynn of coneinc.com for Beneful--I appreciate the prompt reply. It appears the company suggests anything negative happening as a result of the promotion would be the owner's fault.

"Hug Your Dog Day is a celebration of the very special and loving relationships dog
owners across the country share with their four-legged best buddies every day.
There are a number of ways people can participate in the virtual hug fest by sharing
"hugs" online.  Regarding the physical act of hugging your dog, we respect dog
owners to know whether or not their dog likes to hug and be hugged and, if so, how
based on their close relationship and daily interactions with him or her."

Image Ciarin Griffin/Getty Images


April 10, 2012 at 6:48 pm
(1) Susan Ewing says:

A pretty lame response from Purina. So let’s promote “Pretend you’re William Tell” Day. Send us photos of someone shooting an arrow at an apple balanced on your child’s head. We depend on you to know whether or not the person shooting has good aim.
Couldn’t they promote “give your dog a Beneful Treat” day to show your love? Or, “brush your dog” day? (and give the dog a treat for holding still)
Seems like endless ways to promote the product safely.

April 11, 2012 at 1:31 am
(2) puppies says:

Hi Susan, thanks so much for visiting and posting. I agree that there are other very positive ways that could be used to promote the product, that dog trainers and behaviorists and other canine experts actually would endorse.

April 10, 2012 at 8:14 pm
(3) KAREN says:

You make it sound like your dog is a WILD ANIMAL, yes they dont hug for affetion but they LEARN what we teach them, what do you want to do have a sniff your dogs butt day or lick your dog day? We have had animals all our lives and NOT once did our dogs bite us let alone our cats, they learn to walk on a leash, that is not something they are born to do, they LEARN to do this because teach them. You are not a animal behaviorist just a person people ask you to test out so before you decide to pretend you know something just stick at what you know and just promote products

April 10, 2012 at 11:04 pm
(4) puppies says:

Karen, thank you for your response. I absolutely agree with you–dogs don’t hug for affection and we can teach them to do things they don’t particularly enjoy. Dogs (and cats) are very forgiving of humans, or we would have many more problems. I’m delighted to learn that you’ve never had a problem behavior with your animal companions, not all are so fortunate.

You can learn more about my animal behavior and other credentials by clicking on the “bio” link–and no, I very rarely test or promote products. *gentle smile*

April 10, 2012 at 8:36 pm
(5) Debra J. White says:

I put the question out there on my FB page. There’s big difference of opinion. Lots of my FB friends hug their dogs/cat without problems. I’ve been a shelter volunteer since 1989 and have seen hundreds if not thousands of people hugging their pets all without issue. Of course there will be problems with dogs/cats not used to human affection or with dogs/cats that have been abused but in my opinion I don’t agree with the premise that all hugging is harmful. Neither do my FB followers.

PS I was a pet therapist for ten years. In ten years not a single client was ever bitten by my dog and dozens of people including children and elders hugged my mixed breed dog adopted from a shelter.

April 10, 2012 at 11:12 pm
(6) puppies says:

Hi Debra, thanks so much for your comment and visiting here. I agree with you that not ALL hugging is “harmful.”

Neither is all hugging harmless, however. Pet therapy animals receive training to accept such handing and I’m sure we’d agree that not all dogs or cats are cut out to be therapy or service animals.

I’m delighted that your FB responders shared their response. We don’t have to agree on everything but folks should know all the potential issues before making a choice, don’t you think? As a responsible journalist and behavior consultant it would be unethical for me to not point out such things–and then if folks make the choice to hug they can make an informed choice. I’ve served in trials as an expert witness in which a child was nearly killed by a family dog she loved–and that loved her. If an unpopular post aggravates 100 folks who love to hug their dogs, yet saves one child from such a situation, I’m satisfied.

April 10, 2012 at 10:27 pm
(7) Jennfier Castellanos says:

All animals dogs/cats etc. need hugs every once in a while just like humans they feel love and show affection in their own way, I work at animal shelter and I’ve seen animals that just need to know that someone cares about them and a hug is a easy way to show that and I had cats just jump on my shoulder and want to be hugged and carried around the shelter so, I disagree and no on should ever be afraid to hug your cat or dog.

April 10, 2012 at 11:18 pm
(8) puppies says:

Hi Jennifer, thanks for visiting! I agree that just like humans, dogs and cats need to feel love and show affection (and be shown affection). A hug is, indeed, and easy way for HUMANS to show affection. And yes, many dogs and cats enjoy close contact and even learn to appreciate human hugs. There are safer ways to express affection that many pets would appreciate more. I wouldn’t say you should be “afraid” but I would urge caution and understanding how dogs tell us that they do not like hugs so that any potential problem can be avoided.

Bless you for working in a shelter. That’s not an easy job and it takes special dedication.

April 10, 2012 at 11:00 pm
(9) David in Utah says:


I am a mentally disabled veteran. Proud to help other vets find and keep dogs who are scheduled for being put down. MY DOG HUGS ME AND I HUG HER ALL THE TIME!!!!

I am also proud to say that this is the first time I have come to this web site!

It is also my last!

A dog’s affection does more for mental illness’ than most drugs and therapy can do. To try to tell me or any of the vets that dogs don’t want a hug is pure BULLSH*&.

Now, good day!

April 10, 2012 at 11:23 pm
(10) puppies says:

Hi David, Thanks so much for visiting–and I hope you’ll return. Bless you for helping other vets connect with needy dogs. How neat that your dog DOES enjoy hugs, you have a special companion and not every dog does this.

It was never my intent to offend anyone. Dogs do give affection and love to receive it as well. But as much as we love dogs they are not humans and don’t always take kindly to human-ways of expressing love. When that happens, it can be dangerous.

My deepest fear is that people who love their dogs might (by mistake) give the wrong signal to their beloved pet, be misunderstood, and have something bad happen. Just as no two people are identical and no two veterans have the exact same experience, no two dogs are the same, either. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

April 11, 2012 at 11:06 am
(11) Joe says:

Some people know their pets well and know if their dogs tolerate and even like hugs. In this situation this “promotion” is fine….

…the issue comes in when an owner that is clueless or a child (who is just a child) decides to hug their dog and get bit. The statistics don’t lie…kids under the age of 9 are most likely to be bit and they are most likely to be bit by their own family pet. Don’t might “learn to like” hugs but this is not a natural behavior for them…and many don’t like to be hugged.

I don’t think this is a great promotional idea.

(Animal Control Officer 15+years, Dog Trainer, Dog rescue volunteer 20+years)

April 11, 2012 at 11:15 am
(12) Donna Montaldo says:

Hi Amy,

You know, I’ve never even considered that hugging my dogs may leave them feeling confused and unsettled. It’s just something I have always done, even as a child. And yes, I do have the facial scars from childhood to prove it! Thanks for letting me know that my dogs would probably prefer a good petting rather than a big hug.

As to the “IDIOTS” person — maybe there was something of value in your comment, but the opening line turned me off and I didn’t bother to read past it.


April 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm
(13) JJL says:

Interesting post. I had not realized that hugs were not welcomed naturally by dogs. But now that I think of it — I should have recognized it in the special companions I’ve had in my life! The dog I had in my childhood seemed to tolerate hugs — but now as I look back, the emphasis should probably be on “tolerate.” She knew that I was in her circle of protection, so she didn’t bite — but I realize as I think back, that she managed to turn and/or squirm away most of the time, and get me to do things she liked, like scratch a spot on her chest where she really liked to be scratched, or play with her. And I’m also remembering when my son was small, and the dog we had in our family then would do anything for that little boy — including let him take food from her mouth! hardly “natural” behavior! — but now that I picture encounters in memory, she too just tolerated hugs, moved away when she could, and turned the encounter into something else. Dogs also have wisdom for us, if we’re willing to follow it. (And one way they’re wise: they rarely call strangers “idiots” in capital letters.)

April 11, 2012 at 9:08 pm
(14) Paul says:

I have a lab X who loves hugs – he really does see them as a sign of the affection. :) but we have a hand sign for it so if he doesn’t want to he won’t put his paws up.

October 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm
(15) Mcmillon says:

I’m also a 100% disable Vet serve 82-2003, I have a yorkie who goes with me almost everywhere even sleeps with me and my wife, he’s my little boy not my dog. I have chronic PTSD from combat and all the meds and treatment I receive is good but when I’m down in the dumps badly, hugs from my little boy (dog) makes me feel so good and it seems like he know this. No he doesn’t like to many hugs but when I do hug him in the morning when he wakes me and it night after playing under the covers before going to sleep he makes little noises then licks me. I don’t know what kind of dogs you’ve been around back my little boy love my hugs and I love his, maybe you need some hugs and love….try it. Remember also, a dog knows a fake love hug from a love hug.

October 8, 2012 at 7:21 am
(16) puppies says:

Thanks so much for posting about your special Yorkie. I’m so glad you have such a wonderful relationship.

February 19, 2013 at 11:03 pm
(17) ginger says:

This whole post was ridiculous…
My dog puts his arms on my shoulders and licks my face non stop, until I.say..ok bud..that’s ok..enough..I undertand that small dogs and puppies might be unintentionally named by hugs…and that should probably should have been your intended subject matter as opposed to the “perils” of hugging your dog.
Say what you want…I’ve raised and fostered many a pup…none of whom were thoroughly confused and ended up being behaviourly modified by by a hug.
The bottom line, is its done as a sign of affection. Dogs feel affections…and any gentle touch from the one they love, is always welcomed. They do not understand affection the way we do…but they know a hug. is postive and loving. Dogs love any type of affection..whether it be a head scratch in passing r a BIG HUG. Same dog, mentioned above comes and lays right next to me each nite at bedtime, as tight and as close as he possibly can.He doesn’t doesn’t staring at me until I lay my entire arm.across his body. He will nod off and after 15 minutes he’s up and out….he starts each morning like that..and ha initiates it..say and think what I will …I’m a dog hugger! And he LOVES IT! Xoxox

April 17, 2013 at 10:07 am
(18) Kristin says:

I hug my dog all the time, and I do believe he enjoys it. My Nina, who we lost last year, was not as affectionate, and would let you give her hugs, but I don’t think she particularly enjoyed them. She never once showed any aggression to any one or any thing (she was as sweet as could be) but she would break from the hug fairly quickly. Though she was never aggressive, I can see how some dogs might be. I think it’s just a matter of knowing your dog.

May 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm
(19) Melanie says:

How ridiculously stupid and overreactive. You sound like a helicopter parent – “Don’t do this, don’t do that, danger, danger, danger!!” Not everyone is dumb enough to go sticking their face in that of a clearly aggressive dog and give them a big hug. But many of us own dogs whose behaviors we have come to know and can predict. Lots of people will say, “a dog can turn at any time,” and that is simply not true. There is always a reason for aggressive behavior. In my life I have had many dogs, mostly pit bulls, but also a German shepherd, a Great Dane and lots of mutts. All of them were cool with hugs. Two of my pit bulls were actually the ones to hug me! It had nothing to do with dominance, because they never showed any signs of trying to be dominant over humans. They would put their paws on our shoulders and give us sincere, sweet kisses. They didn’t do this all the time, or with everyone – only their favorites. My Great Dane liked to dance with me when I was little. Obviously, retarded people who hug too hard should just go up to a random dog and hug them, but if you’re seriously going to tell people not to hug their own dogs, you need to pull the stick out of your butt and lighten up. Live dangerously – hug a dog!

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.