Many of us may enjoy curling up with and hugging our dog on the couch after a long day at work, but this enjoyment may prove to be one sided. An article published in Psychology Today entitled “Don’t Hug the Dog” by Dr. Stanley Coren argues that by hugging your canine friend you may be causing him anxiety. This idea has also been voiced by Clair Mathews, senior canine behaviorist at Battersea dog and cat home and Caroline Kisko, kennel club secretary.
Dr. Coren a canine expert and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia writes that dogs are cursorial animals, which means they are designed for swift running. He states: “Behaviorists believe that depriving a dog of that course of action by immobilizing him with a hug can increase his stress level”.
Dr. Coren took a random sample of 250 pictures of adults and children hugging dogs. He sourced the pictures from the internet. He gave each picture one of three possible scores:
- One could judge that the dog was showing one or more signs of stress or anxiety
- One could judge that the dog appeared to be relaxed and at ease
- One could decide that the dog’s response was ambiguous or neutral
Dr. Coren states that signs of a dog’s anxiety include:
- turning the head away from what is worrying them
- partially or fully closing their eyes
- showing the white portion of the eyes at the corner of the rim
- lowering of ears
- lip licking
- baring of the dog’s teeth
Dr. Coren found that 81.6% of the photographs showed dogs who exhibited at least one sign of stress or anxiety. 7.6% of the photographs depicted dogs that were happy to be hugged and 10.8% showed dogs who portrayed a neutral or ambiguous response to the hugging. Thus, Dr. Coren concluded that four out of five dogs find hugging unpleasant or anxiety provoking.
Dr. Coren notes: “The clear recommendation to come out of this research is to save your hugs for your two footed family members…” and “express your fondness for your pet with a pat, a kind word, and maybe a treat”.
Claire Matthews says: “A hug might be a normal social greeting for humans but it isn’t for a dog.”
She notes that people may not notice that a dog is feeling stressed or anxious and this could lead to an undesired reaction from the dog. Although many of us may think we are making the dog feel good when we are hugging it, Matthews notes that the dog will tolerate a hug rather than enjoy it.
Furthermore Matthew notes: “When you hug a dog it usually show signs of stress because it invades their personal space – a person putting two arms around the neck of a dog can be interpreted as being intimidating and means that it can’t move away from the situation it is uncomfortable with.”
Caroline Kisko, concurs with this sentiment and adds: “On the whole dogs are sociable animals and love interacting with people, but any action that restricts a dog’s movement could make them uncomfortable and it is important for an owner to recognise the signs of stress or anxiety.”
Rather than showing your affection for your dog through hugging try a gentle pat. Understanding that dogs are different to humans is crucial. It is important to be able to read your dog’s behavior so as to know when he is happy or anxious. This will help you get along better with your canine friend and make sure that both of you feel comfortable and happy — and knowing that you’re both happy can be just as good as a hug, any day!