Not only is hugging dogs likely to stress them out, but it also increases your chances of getting bitten.
Stanley Coren, professor emeritus in the psychology department at the University of British Columbia, says this is because dogs are technically cursorial animals, meaning they are designed for swift running.
Coren writes in a recent article in the magazine Psychology Today:
“That implies that in times of stress or threat the first line of defense that a dog uses is not his teeth, but rather his ability to run away. 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 dog’s anxiety becomes significantly intense, he may bite.”
Coren says that while the idea that dogs dislike hugs is “widely accepted,” it has been studied “very little.” So he did his own experiment.
He selected a random sample of 250 online photos of adults or children hugging dogs, which he then analyzed to determine whether the dogs were showing signs of stress or anxiety.
The situations in the photos fell into one of three categories:
- One could judge that the dog was showing one or more signs of stress or anxiety — which accounted for 81.6 percent of the photos
- One could judge that the dog appeared to be relaxed and at ease — 7.6 percent
- One could tell that the dog’s response was ambiguous or neutral — 10.8 percent
Coren concludes his article:
“The clear recommendation to come out of this research is to save your hugs for your two-footed family members and lovers. It is clearly better from the dog’s point of view if you express your fondness for your pet with a pat, a kind word and maybe a treat.”
If you’re wondering whether you’re stressing out your dog, Coren reports that well-established, observable signs of stress and anxiety in dogs include:
- Turning the head away from whatever is bothering or worrying the dog (most common sign), sometimes also closing the eyes at least partially
- Ears lowered or slicked against the side of the head (common sign)
- “Half-moon eye” or “whale eye,” which is when the white portion of the eye is visible at the corner or the rim
- Bared teeth (extreme sign)
What’s your take on this news? Will you hug your dog in the future? Let us know what you think below or on Facebook.