Should You Stop Hugging Your Dog?

hugging your dogYou love your dog. Your dog loves you. Hugs and kisses ensue. A quick scan of Facebook friends’ photos with their dogs will no doubt turn up plenty of hugging photos. All parties involved probably look like they’re enjoying the closeness. But a recent report has one person claiming that dogs hate hugs. Could it be true? 

Psychology professor and dog behavior expert Stanley Coren assembled his own data by analyzing a sample of 250 photos from Google and Flickr of humans hugging dogs. Coren concluded, in what he terms as his “casual observations,” that in a little over 80 percent of the photos the dogs were exhibiting signs of stress, anxiety, or discomfort.

But when research isn’t part of a peer-reviewed study, the findings should not be taken for gospel. There are plenty of variables that weren’t taken into consideration regarding the photos Coren reviewed, such as:

  • Whether Coren was looking at staged stock photos or candids
  • If the dog was being hugged by their owner or a stranger
  • If the dog was too large or too small to be easily hugged
  • Whether the dog was distracted by a sight, sound, or smell off-camera
  • Whether the dog is old and feeling unwell or young and easily distracted

In short, the photos that show up on a quick internet search are not adequately representative of how all dogs respond to hugs.

Secondhand smoke can harm your pet >>

Canine Love

However, dog behaviorists have long theorized that dogs do not like to be immobilized since they are designed to run. If a dog is restricted in any way, he can become anxious and even bite, according to Coren. So while you might enjoy hugging your dog more than your dog enjoys being hugged, you don’t have to feel like you can never be affectionate with your pup. You just might want to make sure you’re showing love on his terms half the time.

It’s important, above all, to treat your dog as an individual and get to know his preferences and dislikes, to learn how to read his body language and facial expressions. A wagging tail or leaning into the hug are obvious signals of happiness and enjoyment. Turning his head away, yawning, licking a person’s face repeatedly, and getting tense can all be signals of displeasure.

If you raise your dog from a puppy, you may be able to condition your pet to accept certain levels of affection. After all, in situations like caring for your puppy’s teeth or bathing your dog, there is likely to be some hugging involved (though some pet owners might categorize this as wrestling more than hugging).

Concerned about your dog’s level of anxiety or any unusual behaviors? Visit the Northpointe Veterinary Hospital, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for fast and comprehensive care.