Most dog owners, particularly those whose dogs truly share their lives and often their beds, happily throw their arms around their canine companions like a stuffed animal. This is usually for the human’s sake and not for the animal. In fact, the latest research says, “Do not hug a dog.” Apparently, they do not like it.
While many people treat pets like human children, understanding how they naturally react and communicate – with their eyes, ears, tail and posture is important – just like learning to read humans in a household. The tail alone speaks volumes of dog language, from happiness to fear and various levels in between. Studies show they understand human expressions too, but they do not understand or feel comforted by hugs like people do, according to research in the latest issue of Psychology Today.
Dogs are descended from wild animals that naturally run when stressed or frightened. As a result, they instinctively feel trapped and immobilized by a hug; it gets them more stressed out. If feeling too threatened by the person holding them, dogs will eventually growl or bite. However, they usually give off warning signs that show they are getting uptight long before they bare their teeth and pounce.
The Psychology Today article looked at the warning signs dogs give off show they are anxious or scared and whether human arms surrounding them created more anxiety. Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, conducted the research. Coren is also a canine expert who has written several books on dog behavior.
The researcher analyzed 250 randomly found Internet photos of people posted of them or loved ones hugging their dogs. He studied each photo for known signs of anxiety in the canine. They include ears pulled back or down, turning their head away, eyes open wide showing the whites or closed completely, and lip licking. The pictures were scored on whether the dog showed one or more signs of stress or anxiety, if the dog appeared relaxed and at ease, or the dog’s response was neutral or ambiguous.
The dogs in 82 percent of the photos showed at least one sign of stress. Only approximately 8 percent of the dogs pictured seemed happy being hugged. The other 10 percent appeared neutral or ambiguous.
Coren noted in his write-up that the photos “used were obviously posts by individuals who wanted to show how much they cared for and shared a bond with their pet.” He pointed out that the people posting the shots “probably chose photos in which they felt that both the person and the dog looked happiest.” But, the scrutiny of the dogs’ telltale signs tells a different tale.
Hugging is important for humans, which might be why people instinctively throw their arms around the dog (or it is a behavior ingrained from childhood by hugging stuffed dogs). Coren added, “The clear recommendation to come out of this research is to save your hugs for your two-footed family members and lovers.” The research indicated that most dogs do not like a hug; give them dogs a pat, treat, kind word or other sign of affection they welcome as well as their humans do.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Psychology Today: The Data Says “Don’t Hug the Dog!”
New York Magazine: Your Dog Hates Hugs
Doggone Safe: Dog Bite Safety
U.S. News & World Report: Dogs Hate Hugs, Study Suggests
Photo courtesy of Chad Miller’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons license