The world is full of huggers. Hip huggers. Tree huggers. Curb huggers. It seems that wherever you go, someone or something is enfolding, embracing, sidling, or just casually clasping. I myself seem to be more of a dog hugger. Of course, when it comes to dogs I don’t know very well, it’s only safe to give them plenty of space. But canines who are trusting, established parts of my inner circle — they must be prepared. Because I tend toward serial pup-snuggling.
I’ve always assumed that my pooch pack tends to enjoy these hugs, or at least tolerate them. But let’s be real: Who can really catch a canine’s expression mid-cuddle? For all I know, my dogs are sitting there rolling their eyes and exchanging secret signals: “Aw, for crying out… not this again. Crawl behind the couch before she sees you, too.”
As it turns out, that’s quite possibly the case. In a recently published Psychology Today article, neuropsychological researcher Stanley Coren maintains that many dogs find hugs at least semi-stressful. Coren bases his assertions on a study that analyzed 250 internet photos of folks embracing their four-legged friends. In more than 80 percent of these photos, canine anxiety signals were evident. Such signals included slicked-back ears, pulling away, head-turning, and — yep, you guessed it — eye-rolling.
All righty then. So maybe I need to ease off the embracing aspect of pet TLC — though I do want my dogs to know how much I appreciate and adore them. And apparently, I’m not alone. The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that pet parents spent more than $5 billion on pet-related services in 2015 (a whopping 11.8 percent rate of growth since 2014). Clearly, many of us view canine companions as bona fide members of the family. Evidently, there’s a reason “human’s best friend” has become a catchphrase.
With all that in mind, I started making a mental list of safe, space-respecting, wallet-friendly ways to give my pooches a bit of intentional pampering every day. If you’d like to give your hound an occasional hugging hiatus, try some of these tips at home:
1. Enjoy some quality time
Plain and simple, most family dogs feel more secure and content in your presence. You’re their leader, after all. So periodically, take just a few extra minutes to sit somewhere comfy — and invite your pup to recline by your side. It can help you both feel calmer and happier, and it’s free.
2. Have a chat
I’ve always noticed that dogs enjoy hearing the voices of their trusted companions. So try talking to your pooch in calm, quiet tones; and make a point of saying their name occasionally. Ask for a simple trick, then pet and praise. Our Grant comes from a highly abusive background, and doing this makes his whole face light up.
3. Give a special treat
Most dogs adore almost anything edible. So remember that dog “treats” don’t need to be lavish OR calorie-laden. We’re talking half a carrot, a chilled green bean, a few frozen peas, or a tiny lick of peanut butter. These healthy nibbles can perk up your pup, without packing on pounds. Always ask for a “sit” or “stay” first, to reinforce good behavior.
4. Go on an active outing
Do you and your dog enjoy the outdoors? Plan an early-morning hike, or a day trip to the lake. Need to head out to the mailbox? Take your pup along for a sunny stroll. Even a quick car trip around the block can feel like recess to a cooped-up canine.
5. Learn something new together
Helping your dog learn new commands is a great way to bond while sharpening mental acuity. Work on a few fun tricks at home DIY style, like “high five” and “roll over” — or get more sporty by exploring dock diving or agility training. The North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) and the United Kennel Club are great places to learn more.
6. Get specialized training
Maybe your pup isn’t enormously athletic, but seems pretty chilled out. Ever considered therapy dog training? It’s another great way to bond with your pup — while providing life-changing comfort and support to students, hospital patients, veterans, and the elderly. Explore the specifics at Therapy Dogs International (TDI).
What are some budget-friendly ways you help your pup feel secure, special, and loved? Share your pampering pointers below!