Hugging is a natural way for us to express our affection for the ones we love, but when it comes to our furry family members, hugs are not always enjoyed both ways.
In 2016, psychology professor and neuropsychological researcher Stanley Coren studied over 250 random photos of dogs being hugged and noticed that, in an overwhelming amount of instances, the pets displayed signs of increased stress and anxiety (you can read the whole article here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/canine-corner/201604/the-data-says-dont-hug-the-dog) . A few people disagree, but despite how good it feels for humans to receive hugs, most experts agree with Coren’s analysis that dogs do not like to be hugged because the gesture immobilizes them, causing high levels of stress and anxiety that could lead to aggression or biting in extreme cases, or just a nervous and unhappy dog in mild cases.
“A lot of dog professionals would agree that hugging a dog is non-ideal,” dog-cognition scientist Dr. Alexandra Horowitz told Forbes. “I’ve never seen a dog who—when you hug them—they stand up and wag their tail and they’re so excited. They do something else. They deal with it, you know? The reason we say they don’t like being hugged is because of what they look like when you’re hugging them,” Horowitz says. “They pin their ears back, they lick their lips (sort of air licking). Or they yawn, which is another stress behaviour. Or they move to get away. Or they show this kind of whale-eye posture — you can see the whites of their eyes. They show behaviour that means ‘This is uncomfortable.'”
So, as adult humans, we can limit our own impulse to hug dogs. Impulse control, however, is much harder when you’re an infant.
“Children like to give dogs hugs, and some dogs do not deal with it well,” Horowitz said. That’s where problems can happen, like a normally calm dog attacking a child. “The child is right at dog-face level, and they could get a real bad injury by the dog snapping.” Horowitz added. “There’s nothing wrong with the dog. You’ve done something they don’t like. You’re right there. They’re growling. You’re not listening. And they snap at you. And that could really injure a child.”
We assume that because hugs show our love towards our pets that they feel our love the same way, but we’re probably wrong.
Just because you shouldn’t bear-hug your dog, it doesn’t mean you can’t show them love in other ways. Here are some alternative gestures that will let your dog know how much you care!
- Treats – lots of treats
- Quality time – go for a walk, play a game of tug, throw a ball. Your dog will love one on one time with you