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 pets 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 pet 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 explains that pets being hugged often pin their ears back, lick their lips, move to get away, yawn or show whale-eye, all signs of stress.
Horowitz goes on to add that some pets do not deal well with children hugging them, and that’s where problems like a normally calm dog attacking a child can happen. “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.”
As adult humans, we can limit our own impulse to hug dogs. Impulse control, however, is much harder when you’re a small 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 – not too many, we don’t want your pet to get portly! But a treat now and then is a sure way to say “I love you”.
- Quality time – go for a walk, play a game of tug or throw a ball for your dog. Your cat may enjoy a game of pounce with a flirt pole or rattle toy. Your pet will love one on one time with you.
- Physical touch – if your pet enjoys a good belly rub or an ear scratch, this is a great way to bond and show your affection for him.