11 Things Humans Do That Dogs Hate

There are a number of things dogs hate—and you may be doing them without realizing.

dog stares at camera, annoyed, while persons hand pets them on head

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Dogs try to be our best friends, but we don't always make it easy for them. Every now and then, we all do things dogs hate. Here are some of the common human actions that push dogs away by making them upset, nervous, stressed, or confused.

1. Using Words More Than Body Language

person talks to dog gesturing with hands while dog looks confused

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Dogs might be able to deduce the meaning of a few key words (e.g., walk, treat, toy, off), but they can't understand human language. What they rely on to figure out what we mean is our body language. Unfortunately, we can easily send mixed signals if we're only paying attention to what our mouths are saying and not what our bodies are saying.

If you go to any beginner dog training class, you'll often see people saying one thing but doing another, and a confused dog trying to discern what is being asked of them. For instance, telling a dog to "stay" while leaning forward toward the dog and holding out a hand like a traffic cop is, in body language, actually inviting the dog to come toward you. But when the dog does, she gets reprimanded for breaking her stay command, which is confusing.

A great experiment is to spend a whole day not saying a word to your dog, but communicating only with your body. You'll see just how much you "talk" with your body without realizing it and learn how to use your movements and body positions to get the response you need from your dog.

2. Hugging Your Dog

woman hugs black dog outside near a tree

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

While you might love wrapping your arms around a furry canine friend, most dogs hate hugs. Rather than the camaraderie and support this action communicates among primates, it is considered an act of dominance if a dog places a foreleg or paw on the back of another dog.

Many dogs will tolerate it with grace, but some dogs will feel threatened, fearful, or angry. And keep in mind that the same dog that enjoys one person's hug might react entirely differently with another family member who tries the same thing.

If you're wondering if your dog hates your hugs, pay attention to her body language when you go in for a cuddle. Does she tense up? Lean her head away from you? Avoid eye contact? Lick her lips? Keep her mouth closed? Pull her ears back against her head? All of these are signs that a dog is uncomfortable. So next time you want to go in for a hug, use these signals to learn whether or not the dog is OK with it.

3. Petting a Dog's Face or Patting Her Head

dog looks uncomfortably at human while human places hand on their furry head

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

If someone were to reach their hand toward your face, your reaction would likely be to pull your head back and lean away, and then get a little tense about the invasion of personal space. Yet most humans think that dogs like being patted on the head.

The reality is that while many dogs will put up with this if it's being done by someone they know and trust, most dogs don't enjoy it. You may notice that even the loving family dog might lean away slightly when you reach for her face to pet her. It's a personal space issue for dogs just as much as it is for us.

Interact with your dog by gently petting her back or rear, but don't pat, and definitely don't go for the dog's face. If you really want to reward your dog, give them a rub on their rear end right by the tail; that's their favorite place to get petted. A belly rub, a little ear massage, and a scratch on the underside of the chin, front of the neck, or sides of the thighs are sure to make your dog happy.

Petting releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin in both dogs and humans, so be sure to do it—just do it in the right places, with the right approach. It is also a form of bonding and it reassures the dog that you are his or her beloved owner.

4. Walking Up to a Strange Dog While Looking Her in the Eye

dog stares intently at camera while inside house

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

While we humans view steady eye contact as an important sign of trustworthiness or focus, it is part of establishing dominance for many species, including dogs.

When you look a strange dog right in the eye, unblinking, you might be smiling and trying to warm up to them. However, the dog is probably reading it as an act of dominance or even aggression. They might display a submissive response—looking away, doing a little wiggle for pets, rolling over onto their backs—or they might start backing up and barking. Either way, for most dogs, a stranger looking it right in the eye while approaching is not a comfortable situation.

If you want to say hello to a new dog in a way that is comfortable for both of you, approach with your body angled slightly (not with your shoulders squared toward the dog), your eyes slightly averted, and speak quietly with a gentle voice. All these body language cues of friendship will help a dog understand you mean no harm. The dog might still want nothing to do with you, but at least you didn't approach in a scary way that could cause a defensive or aggressive reaction.

5. Not Providing Structure and Rules

person commands dog to get off the couch while dog looks confused

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

You might think having strict rules makes life boring or unhappy for your dog, but dogs really want to know what's right and wrong according to their leader. This comes in the form of rules. It's similar to how children thrive when they have structure and boundaries. Rules make life a lot more predictable, a lot less confusing, and a lot less stressful.

When establishing those boundaries, it's important to be consistent; dogs don't understand exceptions to rules. They don't understand that they're allowed to jump on you when you have leisure clothes on but not when you have work clothes on. They don't understand that they're allowed on the couch after a bath but not after coming in from a romp in the mud.

Additionally, saying "no" for breaking a rule but not actually doing something to help the dog stop the behavior and learn the rule is not effective enforcement. Dogs thrive when they know where the boundaries are, and when you spend time enforcing consistent boundaries with positive rewards, you also are building up their trust in you as a leader.

6. Forcing Your Dog to Interact With Dogs or People She Clearly Doesn't Like

dog stares intently at camera while person plays on laptop in chair

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Like other social species, dogs have their favorite friends and their enemies, it's easy to tell what other dogs (and people) a dog wants to hang out with and those with whom she'd rather not associate. Yet, many dog owners ignore this or simply fail to read the cues their dog is giving them. It is common for enthusiastic owners to push their dogs into social situations at dog parks or allow strangers to give them pets despite the dog clear signs of wanting to be left alone.

True, there is value in encouraging shy, fearful, and reactive dogs out of their comfort zones so that they can develop necessary social skills, However, knowing the difference between gentle boundary-pushing and forcing an interaction is vital to your dog's safety and sanity.

When dogs are pushed too far in social situations, they're more likely to lash out; after giving multiple cues, their last resort for sending a clear message is to use their teeth. What's worse is that their trust in you as a protective leader is weakened, and they have an even more negative association with a park, a certain dog or person, or a general social setting. So take care to read the body language she gives you when she doesn't want to be around certain other individuals, and don't force it.

7. Going for Walks Without Giving an Opportunity to Explore and Smell

dog on chain leash not being allowed to smell on dirt walk

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

It's important to allow a dog to have some time to explore her surroundings while walking. Dogs see with their noses, and they place as much importance on their sense of smell for interpreting the world as we humans place on our sense of vision. Too often, we deprive them of that experience by treating walks only as rushed, required potty breaks and exercise, trudging along the same old route without any variety or sense of leisure.

Dedicate one of your daily walks to having a "smell walk"—going slow and letting your dog take in the world with her nose. Go somewhere entirely new, explore a different neighborhood or trail, let your dog sniff at a spot until she gets her fill before moving forward, even if it's for minutes at a time.

To help your dog know the difference between a walk where she should obediently stay beside you and a walk where she is free to explore, dedicate a special backpack or harness for smell walks; make sure it is clearly different from your usual collar and leash setup so the different purpose of the walk is obvious to your dog. These walks are a wonderful opportunity for your dog to get some of the mental and sensory stimulation that keeps life interesting for her.

8. Keeping a Tight Leash, Literally

top down shot of black dog in front of grass lawn with owner keeping tight leash on him

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Just as dogs are amazing at reading our body language, they're amazing at reading our tension levels through the leash. By keeping a slack leash, you're letting your dog know that there's no reason to be worried or tense—that you are calm and in control so your dog is free to be calm as well.

On the other hand, keeping a tight leash sends a message to your dog that you're tense, nervous, and on alert, and your dog responds in kind; their levels of stress, frustration, and excitement rise. Plus, it doesn't feel good for your dog to constantly be pulled and thus cued to be on alert, and they're also well aware that they can't get away from you even if they think they need to.

This is why it is so important to teach a dog how to walk on a slack leash. It is a difficult skill to master, and something the majority of dog owners can commiserate about, but it's essential to having pleasant walks with a relaxed dog.

9. Being Tense

dog looks aloof at camera while putting paw on human's arm

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Tension on the leash isn't the only way a dog can pick up how you're feeling. You can tell when a person you're around is feeling tense, even if you don't realize it. Dogs have the same ability. The more stressed and wound-up you are, the more stressed and wound-up your dog is. And dogs, just like us, don't like stress.

You might roll your eyes, but the next time your dog is acting frustrated and tense, check in with yourself—have you been feeling that way for the last few minutes, for the last few hours, or the last few days? Your dog might just be acting as your mirror. If you need a reason to meditate, helping your dog calm down is a great one.

10. Being Boring

dog looks at owner bored while owner plays on laptop

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Just like children can be bored while running errands with their parents, dogs abhor when their owners are boring. You may be busy with obligations or simply tired, but remember that your dog waits all day for you to come play with them. If your dog is making trouble—getting into boxes or closets, eating shoes or chewing on table legs—she's basically showing you just how incredibly bored she is.

Luckily, there is a quick and easy solution to this: training games. Teaching your dog a new trick, working on old tricks, playing a game of "find it" with a favorite toy, or going out and using a walk as a chance to work on urban agility are all ways to stimulate both your dog's mind and body. An hour of training is worth a couple of hours playing a repetitive game of fetch in terms of wearing a dog out. While of course exercise and walks are important, adding in some brain work will make your dog happy-tired. Even just 15-30 minutes of trick training a day will make a big difference.

11. Teasing

dog looks side eye at camera while human teases them with hand on their head

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Many people think it's funny to tease dogs: barking at one as you pass it on the street, waving or talking to one that is barking at them from behind a window, pulling on a dog's tail. The list can go on, but the important thing is that you shouldn't do something you know makes a dog mad for the sake of a laugh; the dog won't find it funny. And, it can lead to some serious behavioral problems.

Why This Matters to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our dogs, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.