Why do dogs like to cuddle?

Secrets of Snuggling: Why Do Dogs Like to Cuddle?

Cuddling: is there any better way to demonstrate love, affection, and closeness? We think not — and neither does your dog!

In fact, aside from dinner time, cuddle time is probably your dog’s favorite time of day. There’s just nothing like snuggling up next to your favorite person after a long day of work and play, and that goes for both humans and dogs!

And your dog’s cuddle buddy doesn’t need to be a person. Dogs will cuddle with just about anyone, including other dogs, cats, and even totally unexpected species like ducks, tigers, and monkeys.

But what is it about a good cuddle session that’s so irresistible to dogs? Well, there’s no particular reason why — cuddling appears to be a holistic activity with many benefits, including these three.

Three Reasons Why Dogs Like to Cuddle

Jack Russell Terrier puppy sleeps near his owner to keep him warm.

1. Cuddling Keeps You Warm

On cold nights in the wild, wolves will huddle together in tight formations, touching each other as much as possible. In other words, they form a great big cuddle pile.

That’s because when two or more warm bodies snuggle up next to each other, they share their body heat, conserving it more efficiently and boosting their defenses against the bitter cold.

When it’s really chilly, cuddling can even make the difference between freezing to death and living to see another day.

Now, your dog’s life isn’t quite so dramatic as a wild wolf’s; when it’s cold outside, he can curl up on your bed or plop down next to the fireplace to warm up. But his instinct to seek out body contact when it’s cold remains, so when winter hits, he’s likely to opt for your lap instead.

Dogs may use us for warmth, but we have a history of doing the same to them. In medieval times, before the advent of central heating and efficient insulation, letting your dog curl up next to you in bed was often the best way of staying warm on chilly nights.

2. Cuddling Feels Like Protecting

Getting toasty may be one reason why canines cuddle, but there’s more to that behavior than mere warmth: it fulfills their protective instincts as well.

When a wolf pack huddles together, the warmest spot — the center — is also the safest. A predator would need to get through layers of fierce adult wolves before getting to the middle, and the wolves know this.

So the pack will make sure the weakest members, like the young and the elderly, get to stay in the middle of the huddle. The leader of the pack will also demonstrate his importance by sleeping in the center.

In this way, the wolves protect their most valuable and vulnerable from both the cold and any attackers. And your dog, having bonded with you and committed himself to protect you, attempts to do the same by cuddling with you.

You may be bigger than him, but look at you — you’ve got no fur, your teeth are dull, and you can barely hear or smell anything. Plus, you’re the top dog in the pack, so you need to be protected at all costs.

So your dog exercises his duty as your defender by cuddling up next to you. It’s a sweet act with a practical purpose: keeping his loved ones safe.

And speaking of love.

3. Cuddling Builds Bonds

Cute little dog cuddling with his teddy bear.

Hormones are powerful things, and one of the most powerful is oxytocin, also known as the love hormone. Its levels are highest during childbirth — hence the undying love between mother and baby. But it’s even released during physical touch.

When you cuddle with your dog, your brain and his release oxytocin. And when that happens, some very intense effects set in.

Oxytocin causes the body to relax, the mind to clear, and the heart to feel like it’s swelling with love. It makes you more trusting, accepting, and at peace with the world, and it instantly reduces stress and anxiety levels.

Repeated contact with a person causes you to associate those oxytocin-driven responses with that person. This, in turn, causes you to feel love for that person — and to want to repeat the contact to feel those good sensations again.

It’s the same story with your dog. Cuddling with you sets that oxytocin free to do its work on his brain, building the love he has for you and profoundly boosting his physical and mental well-being.

And hormones aside, there’s something to be said about the way spending time with someone you love communicates your affection and devotion. Taking the time out of your day to be close with your companion demonstrates the importance you have in each other’s lives.

In this way, a good cuddle session reassures your dog that no matter how busy you are, you’ll always have time to be close to him. That’s real love — no wonder he can’t get enough of it!

"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two of them."
--Phil Pastoret

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