Snuggler in Training

Growing up, my Wheaten Terrier Barley was a pretty independent dog. Even with my mom, who he absolutely adored, he liked to have his space and do his own thing. He would sleep on the bed – when you weren’t on it. He would tolerate affection for a brief moment, until he realized what was going on and would dart away. He would be excited to see you when you got home, but got over it pretty fast. But that’s just how Barley was, and we loved him all the same.

So when Baxter came to our house, settled in, and decided he appreciated his space, I didn’t mind. It became clear after being with us for a few weeks that Baxter isn’t exactly Mr. Snuggle. He will lean into you for a good scratch for hours, but if you go to embrace, he scoots away.

You can tell that something about tight spaces makes him uncomfortable. Being constrained by a human (so the action of hugging – along with holding for shots and vet care) freaks him out.  Who knows if it is because of something that happened in his past, or the fact that he started his life with humans over half way through his existence – but Baxter does not seem to know that human closeness is a good thing.

For the sake of his own mental comfort, and a little bit for my own selfish want to snuggle, I have been trying to show Baxter that being close to people can be good. Every time I go to embrace him, I give him treats. When in doubt: counter condition! (A little trick I learned from my go-to doggy brainiac). He has come a long way already. He still won’t exactly seek out affection, but he certainly tolerates it a whole lot better. Exhibit A:

Whether Baxter warms up to snuggling, or this is just the way he is – it really doesn’t matter. Baxter shows his love for you in a lot of different ways. He runs to greet you at the door, and will do excited zoomies in your honor. He will kiss your face with big smacking kisses as much as you let him. He will sleep at your feet, by your bed, beside you on the couch, for as long as you are there. He will lay with you on the ground, accepting a belly rub or full body scratch. He will work his hardest to please you during training sessions. He will wag enthusiastically when he joins you on a new adventure. He will look to you for affirmation when you are in a new place. He will be steadfast and loyal in his love for you for as long as he lives, and what more can we ask for?

I feel that because my relationship with Baxter hasn’t been built through a physical connection, it’s actually that much stronger. Do I wish sometimes on rainy days that he’d curl up on the couch with me? Sure. But I have fallen so hard for so many other things about him that I don’t even seem to notice anymore. He is an incredible dog that has so much to offer, and I know his forever family will see that and love him just as much as I do.

For more information on adopting Comeback Kid Baxter, click here or email

14 thoughts on “Snuggler in Training

  1. It’s so awesome Baxter has learned to trust. When we first adopted our dog she was no lover of pets. She would get so excited every time we touched her. At night if we even brushed against her fur she would immediately jump up. She just couldn’t sleep if someone was touching her. Three years later she has learned how to relax and now doesn’t even mind being used as a pillow. It’s been an amazing process. All it takes is some time.

    • Yeah! I know for a lot of dogs there is an intrinsic drive to snuggle, but for a lot of others it’s a foreign language. Glad to hear Bax isn’t alone : -) And I definitley think a lot of it is mostly just needing time to trust. He trusts me sooo much more now than four months ago, and knows that I’m not trying to hurt him. That helps a lot too.

    • Silvs you just have to say that cuz I’m your best friend ; -) haha just kidding. Thanks! Glad you liked it! Kenj & Bax have a lot in common, even though they are opposite in looks (something I just noticed right now).

  2. It sounds and looks like cuddling is just something he needs lots of time to get accustomed to and someone as great as you to respect the space that he needs. He’s such a wonderful, caring, loving dog in every other way and he’s come so far! Our Maggie wasn’t a cuddler from 6 months to 3 or 4 years. But now she seeks out cuddling on a regular basis – I think some independent dogs just chill with age and begin to relax about physical touch. It also helps with her that the only path to enjoying the couch is to climb onto my lap! We also had a hands-off puppy in Hurley – it’s taken lots of consistent touch & handling to get him over his initial aversion to being held. I found that massage and belly rubs were a critical part of our counter conditioning. Now I hug him several times a day and he doesn’t seem to mind…too much.

    • That is so interesting that so many years later she is now a snuggler! I tried some massaging on Bax last night because he can be jumpy when you touch his paws and legs, but he relaxed right away with some TLC. Thanks for the suggestion : -)

  3. donna willems

    What a wonderfully written entry. In the last photo, Bax is trying so hard not to do a Barley – turn his head away to dismiss you – LOL.

  4. Oh it’s tough when they won’t snuggle! As humans we crave that physical contact as an expression of “love,” but you’re so right, it’s not like that for all dogs! We’ve had both kinds at Foster House, and I just LOVE that the one we have now is a total snuggle bug! :)

  5. Great post… I have a bit of both in our house. Luna is my very independent Vizsla, who is A-Okay to hang by herself if I need her to and wants things when she wants them… not a huge pleaser for a Vizsla. But I was reminded again last night that though she is not a big kisser, she does love to be near you/on you and cuddle. Case in point, the Mr. was laying on the couch and lifted her with one arm in a flip onto his chest on her back, and she nestled right in. And then she fought his arm when she got up to try and get to a place between him and I to have the best of both worlds. And being only 36lbs she is the ideal lap dog. She will let you put her in just about any tight spot or weird position to cuddle.
    Wyatt (our lab) is now nearly 2 and is sloooowly coming around to the idea of cuddling and affection as a whole. He was always up for a good pet or ear rub as a puppy, but did not really like to be held. I made sure to do work with him to help him trust us in strange positions and handling so that if trauma presented itself he would trust us. As he has gotten older I think he has started to relax into the idea of being held and cuddled a bit as he does not worry about missing something in life. Does that make sense? Much like he has learned to settle better and relax in new places quicker, he has learned that life won’t pass by if he stops for a cuddle. the Mr. is quite happy about his dog being more into cuddling, but I don’t think he ever will enjoy it as much as Luna.
    I am glad Baxter is coming around, and I commend you for respecting the dog that he is. SO many try and force their dog into being something they were never made to be. Keep up the good work.

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