Let’s face it: there is no one out there who is consistently more excited for you to come home than your dog. That feeling of explosive joy you get when you walk through the door is worth its weight in gold. But no matter how much you want to show your sweet doggo you love them back, giving them a squeeze is something you might want to reconsider. It’s hard to imagine how such an innocent gesture of love can do anything but good, but experts have stepped forward to explain why hugs may actually be causing our pooches harm.
Should We Hug Dogs?
We know what you’re thinking, it’s just a hug, is it really that big of a deal? Sorry to say, but yes! And given how many dogs are in the U.S., there are a whole lot of owners who need to hear this news. The National Pet Owners Survey found that a remarkable 48 percent of American homes have dogs. And that’s not the only stat that may surprise you.
More Dogs Than Ever
According to the survey, millennials are more likely to be dog owners than anyone else. Hard to believe, but it’s true. They are also spending much more money on their dogs than previous generations of pet lovers. But if the experts are right, it’s definitely better to drop some cash on a new bed for your pooch than to hug them. And some folks are even going way beyond hugs.
Apparently, nearly a quarter of millennial owners have thrown parties for their pets! But while that may seem over the top, you’ll find plenty of dog lovers who take their furry friends almost everywhere with them — even to restaurants and on vacation. Believe it or not, there are dog-friendly hotels that give your canine five-star service.
Other Ways To Pamper
But there are other ways to show your pup that you love them that don’t involve hiding them under the table of a Michelin Star restaurant. If you’ve got the cash to splash, you can take your beloved pet to the spa — a special one for dogs, of course! There, they’ll be pampered, preened, and lavished with attention. It’s not free, of course, but your dog may appreciate it more than a hug.
So what is the issue with the hugging thing? It doesn’t seem to make much sense. For us humans, being embraced by a loved one is great. And more than a few dog owners would say they’re at their happiest when cuddling up with their loyal, wet-nosed buddy.
They Have Different Needs
Well, you have to remember that dogs aren’t humans! Even if you consider your pup your furbaby, they shouldn’t be treated exactly like an actual baby. And if you don’t believe us, then take it from someone who knows their stuff.
The Kennel Club’s Caroline Kisko has reminded us all to steer clear of embracing our dogs. She explained to The Daily Telegraph, “Dogs are often considered part of the family. However, they are not human and may therefore react differently to certain interactions such as hugging.” That makes sense.
And Claire Matthews agreed. She’s a senior canine behaviorist at the U.K.’s Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, so she definitely knows what she’s talking about. Matthews told The Daily Telegraph, “A hug might be a normal social greeting for humans, but it isn’t for a dog. Subtle stress signals can be missed when you’re hugging your pet, and this could lead to a negative reaction… It’s about recognizing when your dog is uncomfortable.”
Recognizing Uncomfortable Behavior
How do you know if your dog hates hugs, then? Well, Dr. Stanley Coren could probably tell you. He’s a canine behavior expert and a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. And through his studies, Coren decided that dogs exhibit some distinctive signs of stress when embraced by their owners.
What To Look For
The professor looked at 250 pictures of dogs being hugged and drew his conclusions from their reactions. And we’re sorry to bring you the bad news, but most of the pooches showed signs of stress. They may have had flattened or pressed back ears, for example, or had the whites of their eyes showing. When dogs are worried, they also engage in excessive licking or yawning.
And in the images Coren studied, a whopping 81.6 percent of them showed at least one sign of stress. Only 7.6 percent showed a dog at ease, by contrast. Coren couldn’t determine how the dogs felt in the remaining 10.8 percent of the pictures, but we bet they weren’t at their happiest.
What About Hugs Bothers Dogs?
So, what is it about hugging that causes dogs to display stress signals? In an article for Psychology Today, Coren explained, “Dogs are technically cursorial animals, which is a term that indicates that they are designed for swift running. That implies that in times of stress or threat the first line of defense that a dog uses is not his teeth, but rather his ability to run away.” Has your dog ever tried to wriggle out of your arms? Now you know why!
In fact, it could be a very bad idea to stop your dog from escaping. Coren added, “Behaviorists believe that depriving a dog of that course of action by immobilizing him with a hug can increase his stress level. And if the dog’s anxiety becomes significantly intense, he may bite.” Yikes!
Coren’s advice, then, is to “save your hugs for your two-footed family members…” And if you really want to show your best bud how much you love them, stick to more dog-friendly methods. “It is clearly better from the dog’s point of view if you express your fondness for your pet with a pat, a kind word and maybe a treat,” the professor said.
Not Fully Backed By Proof
We know, we know. It’s disappointing! So, let us give you a small silver lining. Coren himself has pointed out that he was basing his conclusions solely on “casual observations.” His study hasn’t been peer-reviewed, either, so other scientists may find flaws in his work.
Lack Of Context
You could argue, for instance, that as Coren’s dog pictures were chosen at random from online sources, he didn’t have much context to draw upon. He couldn’t see for himself how the dogs were behaving before they were hugged, and that means they could have been showing stress signs for other reasons.
A Starting Point
But don’t raise your hopes too much. Evan MacLean, the co-director of Duke’s Canine Cognition Center, thinks there’s something in Coren’s findings. “This is interesting preliminary data which might serve as a good starting point for a formal study,” he told The Washington Post.
You may now be asking, “Can I hug my dog or not, then?” Sorry to break it to you, but probably not! And MacLean agrees. He’s said, “I would advise against hugging dogs – at least in the conventional human form of hugging. This is essentially primate behavior. For example, we see similar embraces in nonhuman apes, but [it’s] not something that dogs do with one another naturally.”
Contact Without Confinement
At least you can still snuggle up to your dog. MacLean continued, “There are lots of ways to have close body contact with dogs that don’t require wrapping your arms around them in a confining manner.” And there you have it. You can pet your pooch as much as they’d like – but ease off on the hugs.