For the Love of Dogs, Stop Hugging Them!

Posted by TF Oren

Attention, dog lovers! Get ready for some sad news.

A recent study headed by Dr. Stanley Coren, a neuropsychological researcher, has found evidence that most dogs don't enjoy being hugged.

The signs of stress in dogs are many, and they range from mild to extreme. Baring the teeth is an example of an extreme indicator. However, there are a number of more subtle indicators of stress, and these include: turning the head away from the stressor, partially closing the eyes, showing the whites of the eyes, pinning the ears, lip licking, licking a person's face, yawning, and raising a paw.

Coren's study looked for signs of canine anxiety in sample of 250 Internet photos of people hugging their dogs. In order to make sure the photographic analysis yielded the most accurate data possible, Coren chose photos in which the dog's face was clearly visible, and photos in which no other visible factors could potentially negatively influence the dog's stress level (such as a dog being lifted off the ground). The pictures were given one of three scores:

1. The photo clearly showed that the dog was exhibiting one ore more signs of stress.

2. The photo clearly showed that the dog was relaxed and happy.

3. The photo showed that the dog was non-reactive to the hug.

A photo from the study. Modified from a photo by the Humane Society of Greater Rochester via
Humane Society of Greater Rochester via Psychology Today

The analysis of all 250 photos found that 81.6% off the dogs showed visible signs of stress and anxiety in response to being hugged. A mere 7.6% of the photos showed dogs who were happy about being hugged. Finally, 10.8% of the dogs in the photos appeared to be neutral or non-reactive to the hugs they were receiving.

A photo used in the study. Modified from a photo by Peter Kemmer via
Peter Kemmer via Psychology Today

"Dogs are technically cursorial animals, which is a term that indicates that they are designed for swift running...Behaviorists believe that depriving a dog of that course of action by immobilizing him with a hug can increase his stress level, and, if the dogs' anxiety becomes significantly intense, he may bite," says Coren.

For those of us who love dogs (and can't resist giving them an occasional squeeze), this data is disheartening. However, knowing that the hugs we love giving our four-legged pals could be stressing them out, maybe it's best we express our affection via other means. After all, there are plenty of other ways to love on your dog. Coren suggests a pat, verbal praise, or the ever-popular tasty treat.

You can read Dr. Coren's full article here.

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For the Love of Dogs, Stop Hugging Them!