We all love to cuddle. That’s why most of us would rather get a dog for a pet because of their popularity for cuddling, too. Don’t get us wrong. There are cats that love to cuddle, too but given the sociable, affectionate, and friendly nature of dogs, they make wonderful cuddle time partners. They love to come to us and push their furry bodies against ours. They will look at you with their soulful eyes as if asking you to caress their fur, lulling them to sleep. But why do these pets love getting hugged close to the body of their human companions?
It’s About Keeping Warm
When you look at the definition of “cuddle”, you’d read something about holding someone close for comfort or warmth. It is this very definition that helps provide for one of the possible reasons why dogs love to cuddle.
Newborn puppies, like newborn babies, are not capable of regulating their own body temperatures. They are susceptible to the slightest change in temperatures, especially cold. As such, they rely on the warm body of the mother dog to keep the puppies warm. Aside from keeping the puppies warm, a cuddling mother dog also conveys comfort and protection. Hence, most people view cuddling in dogs as a very fundamental instinct that serves to protect and comfort them.
We also know that puppies love to pile up. There are thousands of pictures of puppies all cuddled up together like a big bunch of fur balls. It’s an adorable sight. While it is cute, this behavior makes perfect sense if you look at the evolution of the domestic dog. For humans, keeping warm on a cold night is as easy as pulling a thick blanket over the body. Dogs and puppies cannot do that. They can only rely on each other for warmth.
When man domesticated dogs, it was not only to help him in his work. True, ancient dogs were hunters and they were very good at it. They helped early mankind in hunting for food and in protecting them. Somehow, part of this evolutionary development is the dog’s learning of the warmth that a human body can provide. Or vice versa.
Since the ancient times, man has already learned to use whatever resources he has at his disposal to his advantage. He used dogs to keep him warm on very cold nights. He would cuddle up and snuggle with up to 3 domesticated dogs to keep him from freezing to death. This is where the adage “three dog night” comes from.
Through the millennia, both dog and man have learned to rely on each other for warmth during cold days. This remains true to this very day. As such, it should not surprise you if your dog does not want to cuddle during hot summer days. It may still want to cuddle, but only for a limited period and with limited frequency. This only bolsters the assumption that dogs love to cuddle for warmth. And since the environmental temperature is already warm, then there is no need to cuddle very often. What your dog needs during this time is a way to cool its body.
Showing Their Love and Affection
It is evident in the relationship between a mother dog and its puppies that cuddling is a means of conveying love and affection. The way a mother dog takes care of its puppies happens to be replicated the moment the puppies grow and become the pets of humans. Pet owners become the surrogate mothers of these animals, caring for them and giving them the affection that they need. In the minds of dogs, we are now their parents and they would also love to show their affection by cuddling up to us.
There are several studies that show that the special bond between humans and their pets is greatest among dogs or at least is more important to them than it is to other animals or pets. True, there are also cats that value the bond that they have with their human companions. That’s why people almost always refer to them as cats with “dog-like” characteristics.
Our evolutionary development alongside our dogs has further cemented this bond. Whenever we cuddle up with them for warmth, it instills in their canine minds that we love them so much. This endears them to us a lot more. And if you don’t believe in such things, then maybe science can help dispel any doubts that you may have.
A 2015 study revealed that gaze-mediated bonding between man and dogs can increase the levels of oxytocin in the body. As you may know, oxytocin is also known as the “love hormone” because its levels are also increased during tender moments such as cuddling and snuggling.
This was also bolstered by the David Grimm article entitled, “How Dogs Stole Our Hearts”. Grimm wrote that both dogs and their pet owners experienced remarkable increases in oxytocin levels during special moments like cuddling. This is especially true when both beings look into each other’s eyes. Pet owners showed a 300% increase in their oxytocin levels while dogs had theirs increased to 130%.
In short, cuddling strengthens the bond that we have with our pets.
As a Stress Reliever
There is another positive effect of this sudden increase in oxytocin levels as a result of cuddling. This can help alleviate stress and provide a more soothing and relaxing feeling to the dog.
Oxytocin modulates the release of corticotropin releasing hormone. This inhibits the secretion of adrenocorticotrophic hormone from the adrenal cortex. Because of this inhibition, the body is also prevented from secreting cortisol. As such, an increase in oxytocin levels can reduce or prevent the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol.
We can assume, therefore, that dogs love to cuddle when they feel stressed or anxious. Somehow, they have learned that by getting closer to us, they will feel safer and more comfortable. It gives them peace of mind as well as the belief that we are there to protect them.
Not All Dogs Like to Cuddle, Though
It is true that dogs love to cuddle. However, not all canine breeds love it. It all has to do with the dog’s genetic makeup. There are dogs that are very independent, almost to the level of a cat. In addition to this sense of independence, these canines are also less affectionate. Whether it has something to do with their sense of independence or not, no one can be certain.
There are also dogs that are bred for the specific purpose of being companions to their human owners. Lap dogs fit this bill like lock and key. They love the attention and the pampering. Plus, they have the right size to lay down on our laps the whole day. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. For instance, the Great Dane may have the size of a full-grown human, but it looks at itself as a giant lap dog.
There are Velcro dogs that will follow you wherever you go. They are like shadows or magnets that stick with you every time. However, when it comes to touching them or cuddling them, these dogs act as if you’re a total stranger. They’ll follow you anywhere as long as you don’t touch them.
The point here is that dogs have individual personalities. Breed standards like temperament and behavioral characteristics are all stated in the general sense. This means no two dogs of the same breed can ever display the same temperament or behavior. It’s like us, humans.
Dogs love to cuddle for two fundamental reasons: for warmth and to show their affection for us. It can also be a great way to manage canine stress. It is possible that they may have other reasons for wanting to cuddle with us. Regardless of what these reasons are, we sure appreciate the warmth and affection that we also get from them.