There’s been a lot of barking lately about why, despite how much you love your dog, you should stop hugging her. For many, this new rule goes against every loving bone in your body, but I’m here to let you know that maybe, just maybe, you could be one of the few who can keep hugging your dog. The key is paying attention to your dog’s reaction to your loving embrace and tailoring affection from there.
So, what’s all the hubbub about, anyway? Who says you shouldn’t hug your dog and why? Data from a recent observation by Stanley Coren, a psychologist with an interest in all things dog, suggests that hugging your dog actually raises stress levels in most dogs. Dr. Cohen analyzed a random sample of 250 pictures available on the internet of people hugging their dogs. He looked for signs of stress in dogs being hugged and found that almost 82% of dogs showed at least one sign of discomfort, anxiety or stress.
But surely your dog falls into the category of the 8% of dogs who seemed comfortable with a hug, right? Not so fast. It turns out that owners aren’t great at detecting the signs of stress in their dogs, and that’s because sometimes the signs are subtle.
Obviously, you would recognize overt signs that your dog isn’t comfortable in a situation. Baring teeth is a classic signal that you should proceed with extreme caution, for example. But it’s likely that you aren’t picking up the less obvious signs that your hugs are stressing your dog out, such as:
- Yawning. Stress yawns are performed with more intensity than sleepy yawns.
- Licking his nose and lips or licking your face
- Averting his eyes
- Turning his head away from you
- Partially closing his eyes
- Pinning his ears back against his head
- Carrying his tail low
Watch your dog in a new situation that might make him nervous and you’ll see many of these subtle signs of anxiety. Then go back through pictures of you and your dog to see if you recognize those same signs.
Most dogs don’t love hugs because that’s just not how they interact. You’d never see a dog go up to another dog or human and wrap his paws around her shoulders. Dogs, by nature, are meant to run away from harm, and they’d rather do that than bite. When you hug them, you take away their ability to freely leave a stressful situation, and this makes them more liable to have to bite to protect themselves.
It always makes me cringe a little to see those “cute” internet sites dedicated to children hugging dogs, because I can see those subtle signs of stress in those huggable dogs, and I know that having a child’s face next to a dog’s face can be a recipe for disaster. If you have kids, teach them that if they want to show love to a dog, they can pet them gently, but hugging should be off the table.
Now that I’ve ruined your day by telling you that your dog doesn’t love your hugs, I’ll remind you that about 8% of dogs actually DO like hugs, according to the study I mentioned earlier. If your dog likes your hugs, he won’t show those signs of stress. Instead, he might lean into you and wag his tail. Use your judgment, because you know your dog best, but do keep in mind that your favorite pooch may be trying to tell you to lay off the hugs and make with some chin or ear scratching instead.
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