Dogs don’t like hugs or do they?

Dogs don't like being hugged or do they?

82% of dogs showed signs of discomfort or stress when being hugged.

Australians love dogs. And if you love your dog, you should give it a hug, right? Probably not, according to new research by Stanley Coren, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and long time canine researcher at the University of British Columbia.

This research started when Coren brought his dogs to a “Doggy De-stress Day” at the British Colombia Institute of Technology.  These events are becoming more common for many colleges in North America and usually take place during midterm exam or final exam periods. The way it works is that dogs (often therapy dogs, but sometimes just well-behaved pets) are brought to campus and students get a chance to pet and interact with the dogs.

Coren noticed that his dogs were not always enjoying the interaction at this event. After observing one of his dogs’ exhibit signs of stress upon being hugged, Coren set out to investigate the relationship between hugging dogs and canine stress levels.

Signs of a stressed dog:

  • bare their teeth
  • see the whites of their eyes (known as half-moon eye)
  • raise one paw
  • ears are pulled back
  •  lick their lips when they aren’t hungry
  • yawn when they aren’t tired
  • close their eyes
  • turn their head away

Coren looked for these signs as he studied 250 online pictures of people hugging dogs. He found that 81.6 percent of the pictures showed dogs expressing at least “one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety,” while 7.6 percent appeared to be comfortable and 10.8 percent were neutral.

According to Coren, when a dog is stressed its first instinct is to run away, so immobilising canines with hugs actually increases their stress levels. If a dog gets stressed out enough from not being able to move, he or she may bite the person doing the hugging.

Dogs don't like hugs or do they? New research by Stanley Coren

Dr Joanne Righetti animal behaviourist and her dog Chilli. Photo: PetProblemSolved.com.au

Coren says this data clearly shows that while a few dogs may like being hugged, more than four out of five dogs find this human expression of affection to be unpleasant and/or anxiety arousing.

Rather than hugging your dog, Coren suggests non-restraining alternatives such as patting them, tousling their ears, or speaking in an affectionate sing-song voice.

According to OpposingViews.com, The New York Times notes that Coren’s report was not a scientific study reviewed by peers, but was rather his own observations, which not everyone agrees with.

So, dogs don’t like hugs or do they?

Since publishing his original article in Psychology Today last week, Coren has received a multitude of emails saying that not all dogs are averse to hugs.

Pets4Life asked Dr Joanne Righetti animal behaviourist for her expert view – dogs don’t like hugs or do they?

“Some dogs enjoy hugs. But many do not like feeling restricted. Often owners are unaware that their dogs are uncomfortable and we are lucky that our dogs put up with our behaviour! Learn to read dog body language and never try to hug an unknown dog. Owners should touch their dog all over, to get them used to this but, if your dog is still uncomfortable with hugs, stick to patting them.” She said.

So next time you hug your dog look out for signs that they may be feeling uncomfortable or stressed. Maybe you could pat their shoulder or take them for a walk instead.

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