By Country Living
Those warm embraces might be seriously stressing your dog out.?
We’ve never come across a dog that we didn’t want to give a big ol’ hug, but it seems like the feeling might not be mutual.
In an article that recently appeared on Psychology Today, Stanley Coren Ph.D., F.R.S.C., an author and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, writes that unlike humans, dogs don’t love hugs—in fact, he says, those heartfelt embraces are stressing our canine friends out.
According to Dr. Coren, when dogs feel threatened, their first response is not to bite, but to run—and a hug effectively immobilizes a dog, making his stress levels rise. That’s why, he says, websites like DoggoneSafe.com advise children especially not to hug dogs.
To illustrate his point, Dr. Coren looked at a random sample of 250 photos of people hugging pet dogs on Google Image Search and Flickr, and rated each one based on how many signs of anxiety the dog was showing (for example, turning his head away, showing the whites of his eyes, licking, or lowering his ears against the side of his head).
Dr. Coren says he found that 81.6 percent of the photos he observed depicted dogs displaying signs of stress, discomfort, or anxiety, and only 7.6 percent of the photos showed dogs who enjoyed being hugged. In other words, four out of five dogs find hugs to be “unpleasant.”
Not convinced that your dog isn’t a huge fan of a cuddle session? Other experts back up Dr. Coren’s findings. “Hugging is a natural behavior of humans [but] it is not a species-specific behavior of dogs,” says author and pet expert Amy Shojai, CABC, who says that dogs lean or clasp other dogs as a signal of control, not love.
“When a human hugs a dog, it very much depends on how well the dog has been socialized to accept this un-doglike behavior. When the dog has not been schooled in what the behavior means from humans, yes, it can not only make the dog uncomfortable, but can trigger defensive or even offensive behavior to make the person (or child) back off. The only dogs that accept hugging are those that have been properly socialized while pups to ignore their own normal response, and those that ‘shut down’ out of fear when put in this vulnerable position.”
So clearly you never want to encourage a child (or anyone, really) to hug a strange dog, but what about your family pet that you swear loves a good hug? Dr. Michel Selmer, a Long Island-based veterinarian who operates the Advanced Animal Care Center, says that while some dogs don’t respond well to being hugged, it ultimately depends on the canine’s personality.
The bottom line? Be aware of how your dog reacts to a hug, and if you see Fido showing any signs of anxiety, opt for an alternate way to show your love, like a pat on the head or a belly rub. In fact, Dr. Selmer says that even dog walking, grooming, and the simple act of petting can provide us with the increased physical activity that strengthens our hearts, improves blood circulation, and slows the loss of bone tissue—no hugs necessary.