UBC professor examines: Does your dog loathe the love of a hug?
Your dog hates hugs, or more specifically, hugging your pooch raises its stress and anxiety levels.
That’s according to an informal study done by Professor Stanley Coren, a canine behaviour expert from the University of British Columbia’s Department of Psychology.
Coren’s findings, which he blogged about in Psychology Today, are causing quite the debate amongst dog owners.
So, does your dog loathe the love of a hug?
A resounding yes, according to the UBC professor, and in fact it’s been a long-standing fact that hugging a dog, any dog, is not a wise move.
“It is been generally accepted by anyone that studies anti-dog bite behaviours that hugging a dog is a bad thing,” Coren says.
“In fact, when a children’s book came out saying that you should hug the dog all the time, the American Veterinarian Society actually put out a formal statement and said don’t buy the book because your child will get bit.”
Even though Coren says the idea of not hugging a dog is “widely accepted” amongst dog behaviourists, surprisingly the scientific literature showed there had been little experimental evidence to support the belief.
To conduct his informal study, Coren selected 250 photos randomly of people hugging their dogs from Google Image Search and Flickr. To keep the data clean and precise, he only used photos where the dog’s face could be clearly seen and eliminated situations where a dog’s stress levels would be raised due to alternate factors (ie. being picked up) other than hugging.
From there, each photo got one of three possible scores — the dog showed one or more signs of stress or anxiety; the dog appeared relaxed or the dog’s response was ambiguous. Stress in dogs can show in several ways that are both overt and subtle which include:
- baring their teeth (extreme stress)
- showing a “half-moon eye” where you can see the white portion of the eyes at the corner or the rim
- when your dog turns their head away from whatever is worrying them
- closing their eyes
- ears are lowered or slicked against the side of their head
- lip licking or licking a person’s face
- yawning or raising one paw
After examining 250 photos, Coren found that 82 per cent or four out of five dogs had at least one stress sign when being hugged. Only eight per cent of the pictures showed the dog looking comfortable.
Coren found it ironic and interesting that people who post the photos are trying to show that they love their dogs and yet “it also clearly shows that people don’t recognize stress in their dogs.”
So what’s an owner to do if they want to give a little love to their dog, or any dog?
“If you want to express your affection to your dog, you’re better off patting them or giving them a kind word or a treat,” Coren says.
And save your hugs for the humans in your life.
PHOTO GALLERY: Some Global BC viewers and their pups who may disagree with the data
WATCH: Prof. Stanley Coren talks to Global News Morning BC anchor Steve Darling about his findings