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How To Train Your Dog To Give a Hug

| Published on January 31, 2015

This just might be the cutest trick in the book – there is nothing more adorable than a dog that hugs. Cohen the Australian Shepherd is a trick dog extraordinaire, trained solely by her amazingly creative and talented mom, Jessica Bell.

Cohen hugs stuffed animals, legs and pretty much anything you give her.

Sounds tricky you say? Not so! Bell has made this trick easy (like she does all her tricks). If your dog can sit or sit-pretty (front paws off the ground), your dog can do this trick!

How to Teach “Hug”

If your dog knows a regular sit, you will most likely end up with a 1-handed hug. If your dog knows sit pretty, you will most likely have a 2-handed hug—though this can vary depending on your dog’s personal preferences and ability to balance.

Note: This trick does take balance and good muscles, so ask your vet if you are unsure whether your dog is physically able to perform this trick. Never force your dog into position or make them hold it for longer than they can do on their own. If you are attempting the 2-handed hug, you may have to build up your dog’s back muscles and “sit pretty” duration first.

Step 1: Hand targeting

Get your dog to raise his paw and “target” (touch) your hand. You can do this a variety of ways, but shaping or capturing is probably easiest. Most dogs have a dominant paw, meaning they will prefer using the left or right over the other; using the dominant paw for this trick will make it easier. You can put this on cue if you like (it can be handy for other tricks to name it something, such as “paw).

Step 2: Paw an object

After your dog is pawing your hand consistently, you are going to start introducing objects for her to paw.

Bell says a toy, a book or a post-it note are all good items for this. This is to get her more proficient at pawing a target.

Present the item to your dog to paw, be sure to mark/reward when she does.

When she is comfortable pawing different objects, you will move onto using something long and thin, like a broom handle, umbrella or dowel. Bell recommends holding onto the top of the items to it doesn’t get batted around too much.

Note: Make sure the item is the right size for your dog – a tiny Chihuahua is not going to be able to balance a broom handle! You want the item to be able to touch the floor, for weight-bearing, at this stage.

Step 3: Wrap the paw

Once she is doing this, you are going to help her by gently pushing the item toward your dog, so she naturally wraps her paw around it. Mark/reward as soon as it happens!

Note: This step can take some time so have patience and keep trying. Remember, it’s just a trick, it should be fun to teach. If you are getting frustrated, stop for the day.

As you can see, Cohen uses both paws to hold the item above the ground. This is your eventual goal. Image source: Jessica Bell
As you can see, Cohen uses both paws to hold the item above the ground. This is your eventual goal. Image source: Jessica Bell

Step 4: Strengthening the hold

Once your dog is comfortable with wrapping her paw around the handle, you are going to gently and slowly try to pull the object away from her. The goal here is to engage your dog’s opposition reflex, making her grab the toy harder (so you can’t take it).  Bells says this is a good way to teach your dog to put some muscle into holding the broom (so it doesn’t drop the moment you move your hand away).

In the beginning, just do it this for a second, then steady the item again and reward your dog. Build up length of time in increments, slowly.

Step 5: Removing the “broom”

After she is hugging the broom (or whatever item you were using), you need to remove it and switch it out for objects that are not touching the floor (i.e. your dog will have to hold the weight of the item).

Start with small, light objects and wrap them around the broom. When your dog is comfortable hugging that, remove the broom.

This takes time and muscle so work in short sessions to avoid fatigue on your dog’s part.


Once your dog knows the trick, you can put it on cue by saying “hug” as your dog wraps her paws around an object.

Bell took it one step further in the below video, teaching the amazing Cohen to catch and hug a light weight toy.

About the Author

Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and a member of the Dog Writers Association of America. She is the founder of A Fairytail House. In her spare time, she trains and competes in a variety of performance events with her Shetland Sheepdogs and caters to her two rescue kitties. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.

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