Unwanted Hugs


Dog Running. Photo via https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8a/Too-cute-doggone-it-video-playlist.jpg Under Google Labeled for Reuse.

Dogs are a big part of many people’s lives, and everyone who owns a dog knows how much they love hugging their beloved pet. However, science shows that this act can actually increase a dog’s stress levels.

The majority of dog and pet owners do not realize or do not believe that they are stressing their dog out, but they could actually be the leading reason for the rise in their dog’s stress levels.

Every dog can have a different way of demonstrating stress, but the obvious signs are struggling to escape, barking/growling, and biting (a clear sign, but not very common). Other key signs that are not very common or known are, licking, showing the whites of eyes, and lowering their ears to the sides of their heads.

People are usually taught that when a dog starts to lick, that means that the dog is happy. The truth is that licking usually means the exact opposite, signaling stress and anxiety. Another sign that a dog does not enjoy a hug is turning its head away from the person giving the hug, attempting to look for a place to escape to.

Most pet owners always ask the question, “If my dog didn’t bite me, how do I know he doesn’t like hugs?” Dr. Coren, a psychologist professor at the University of British Columbia, informs us that “dogs are technically cursorial animals, which is a term that indicates that they are designed for swift running.” When a dog is being hugged, their ability to run is disabled, and that causes their stress levels to rise. This is also a reason that dogs do not bite you when they feel scared or threatened, but instead they try to run; running away is a dog’s first instinct.

Dr. Coren created an experiment where he looked at a random sample of 250 pictures of dogs to see how many were showing signs of stress. To increase the validity of his results, he only looked at pictures where the dog’s whole face was shown. Out of the random sample, approximately 81.6% of the pictures taken showed signs of a stressed dog. This data shows that many of the dog owners do not know that they are causing stress until they are informed of the stress signs.

However, not all dogs are stressed out by hugs. It can depend on the personality of your pet. If your dog does not show any of these signs of stress, the dog is most likely calm and enjoys hugs. Stress and anxiety rely a lot on the type of dog, their personality, and their experiences.  Experts like Dr. Coren recommend that it is better be safe than sorry, so do not hug a dog if it begins showing key signs of stress. Also, make sure to ask the owner if it is okay that you pet and/or hug their dog; this will help keep you safe and the animal calm!