In an article recently published by Psychology Today Stanley Coren, psychology professor and neuropsychological researcher at the University of British Columbia, argues that most dogs are actually stressed out by hugs.
“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…Behaviorists believe that depriving a dog of that course of action by immobilizing him with a hug can increase his stress level,” says Coren.
In order to prove his theory, Coren performed a study where he analyzed 250 photos of people hugging their dogs. He scanned each photo for one or more of the following known signs of anxiety in dogs:
- Dog turning its head away from the camera (as dogs tend their heads away from”whatever is bothering or worrying” them)
- Closed or partially closed eyes
- “Half-moon eye” or “whale eye” (which is where “you can see the white portion of the eyes at the corner or the rim”)
- Dog’s ears are lowered or slicked against the side of the its head
- Lip licking, licking a person’s face, yawning or raising a paw (all of which can be signs of anxiety)
Photo Credit: Humane Society of Rochester
To procure the photos for the study, Coren searched terms “hug dog” and “love dog” on both Google and Flickr. And, in order to keep the photo data “clean” (i.e. free of bias or irregular circumstance), Coren “only used photos where the dog’s face was clearly visible” and he also “eliminated situations where one might expect the dog’s stress level to rise because of factors other than being hugged (such as when someone lifts a large dog off the ground while hugging them).”
Each picture received one of three possible scores:
- One could judge that the dog was showing one or more signs of stress or anxiety;
- One could judge that the dog appeared to be relaxed and at ease;
- One could decide that the dog’s response was ambiguous or neutral. Two examples of dogs that scored as being stressed while they were in the process of being hugged appear below.
The results were pretty shocking (at least to us, but not professor Coren)…
Coren’s data revealed that 82% of the dogs in the photos “were giving off at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety.”
Only 8% of the dogs showed signs that they were comfortable being hugged, and the other 10% showed neutral or ambiguous responses.
Coren’s recommendation as a result of this research: “save your hugs for your two-footed family members and lovers.”
Our perspective? Let’s get real! We all love hugging and kissing and snuggling our pets. Saying, “Never hug or kiss your furbaby” isn’t going to happen. Pay attention to their signals, give them a few hugs and kisses each day, but remember to respect them (and their space). They’re our babies and they deserve the best.
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By Bailey Schroeder, ResQwalk Founder