You’re Not a Bad Pet Parent If Your Dog Doesn’t Like to Cuddle

Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA
By Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA on Mar. 14, 2019

One of the most basic ways that pet parents and dogs connect is through touch. We love the sensation of petting our dogs, and it’s clear that most of them adore it, too. After all, when we stop, we usually get a paw-swat and a “More, please!” expression.

But, it might come as a shock to discover that some dogs don’t like petting. It doesn’t matter if it’s a soft stroke or a deep-tissue massage—these touch-aversive dogs prefer to skip cuddly physical contact.

Living with a hands-off dog can be a difficult because we all want to show our dogs how much we love them. In many cases, when our dogs move to the other side of the couch when we sit down, we tend to wonder, “Does my dog love me?” and “Does my dog know I love him?”

Well rest assured, your dog isn’t abnormal if she’s not a stereotypically cuddly dog; she’s just a dog that has other ways of showing that she loves you. And the good news is that a few lifestyle tweaks can help your dog learn to appreciate pats and cuddles and maybe even ask for them!

What Causes a No-Cuddle Dog?

It’s easy to assume that every dog enjoys petting, but there are a number of reasons why a dog might not appreciate cuddling, including:

  • Previous abuse: The sad fact is that an anti-cuddling dog could have been mishandled in the past. Dogs that have been treated roughly, spanked or physically disciplined due to outdated training techniques might end up being terrified of what human hands are capable of.

  • Pain: Dogs with undiagnosed pain or injuries are likely to be wary of touch. Older dogs dealing with joint issues, athletic dogs coping with strains or sprains, and even puppies going through a growth spurt might avoid petting because it aggravates the pain. A veterinarian can help you determine if your dog is dealing with pain.

  • Wrong technique or body part: Occasionally, petting-aversion could be due to operator error. A small dog might not enjoy rough rubbing on her head and ears, while a bigger dog might find fluttery pats annoying. Similarly, some dogs don’t enjoy having their rear end scratched but are totally fine with shoulder massages instead.  

  • Born this way: It’s probably hard to believe that a dog can dislike petting for no other reason than that he just doesn’t enjoy it. Much like some people don’t want hugs, there are dogs that don’t appreciate up-close-and-personal touching.

Signs That Dogs Don’t Like Petting

Cuddle-averse dogs can show their dislike in obvious ways, like walking away if a person reaches for them or ducking their head as if they’re about to get swatted instead of snuggled. Often, the dislike manifests in ways that are easy to overlook, like a series of behaviors called “calming signals” that are subtle and happen quickly.

For example, if you notice your dog leaning away and licking her lips when you pet her, it’s possible she’s not enjoying it. She might also avoid looking at you or take a few steps away so that you’re not able to touch her with the same intensity.

Some dogs even lick the person who’s petting, which is easy to misread as affectionate kissing; however, because many people don’t like slobbery licks, these dogs use the strategy to get people to stop touching them.

Can Your Dog Become a Cuddly Dog?

With a gentle approach and patience, non-cuddly dogs can learn to appreciate touch and can maybe even learn to love it! But helping your hands-off dog enjoy touch means putting your pup in control. Here are the steps you can take.

Follow Your Dog’s Signals for Physical Contact

Rather than assuming your dog is enjoying what you’re doing, watch her body language for clues so that you can determine if you’re on the right track.

First, reduce all physical contact for a few days other than for necessary behaviors, like putting on the leash. It’s not easy to stop loving up on your dog, but this step is important because it shows your dog that you understand what she’s been telling you.

Watch to see if your dog requests physical contact from you during this stage, like brushing up against you or putting her head beneath your hand. If not, continue to withhold casual petting, but remember to find other ways to connect with your dog, like with verbal praise and play.

Try a Pet Test and Pay Attention to Your Dog’s Reaction

Once you’ve refrained from petting for about a week, try a “pet test,” which is a great way to gauge how any dog, petting-averse or not, is feeling about physical contact in that moment. Give your dog a few gentle rubs on his chest or shoulders for about three seconds, then stop and watch your dog’s reaction.

If she wants more, she’ll probably move in closer to you, lean up against you or paw at you. If your dog is still feeling hands-off, she won’t ask for more and will likely just stand there when you stop, or even move away.

If your dog signals that she’d like you to continue, try another brief petting session; the key to success is keeping these initial sessions short. Your dog’s acceptance of touch doesn’t mean she’s ready for a prolonged full-body massage.

Watch your dog’s reactions as you touch her, and try to finish petting before she asks you to stop. Continue to offer your dog brief pats, always paying attention to what she’s telling you as you connect with her.

You can vary where you try petting your dog, the type of touch you give her and the duration, as these aspects can all impact her enjoyment of the process.

Honoring Your Dog’s Need for Space

Keep in mind that even the snuggliest of dogs might not want to be touched all the time. Stressful situations, like a trip to the vet, can make any dog less likely to enjoy touch.

Pet parents who take the time to understand what their dog is telling them will know when a petting session is appreciated and when it actually makes their furry best friend uncomfortable.

The fact is that even with remedial training, there’s a chance that your dog will never appreciate snuggling up. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with your dog or that she loves you any less.

Understanding your dog’s likes and dislikes and honoring them is one of the best ways to be your dog’s advocate. There are a million other signs that your dog loves you, like that happy tail wag when you come home and the way she always keeps her eyes on you. The affection is there—your dog just has a different way of showing it!

By: Victoria Schade

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Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA


Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA

Animal Trainer

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