As most dog lovers, one of my first reactions whenever I see a dog is to immediately hug it with their owners’ consent. Yet, new studies suggest that this might not be a mutual feeling after all. According to an article published on Psychology Today by Dr. Stanley Coren, the physical contact of an embrace, while certainly pleasant for us humans, may in reality cause your dog a significant amount of stress.
Dr. Coren, who specialized in canine behavior at the University of British Columbia, makes a strong case against why we should refrain from hugging our dogs. Coren argues that there are three main signs dogs display whenever they feel stressed or uncomfortable: turning its head away from the root of their anxiety, lowered or slicked-back ears, and evident display of the dog’s whites in the eyes (also commonly referred to as ‘whale eyes’).
After careful inspection of over 250 randomly-selected online images depicting humans hugging dogs, Dr. Coren and a group of animal behavior scientists concluded that nearly 82% of the images analyzed illustrated some signs of stress on the dog’s behalf.
Dogs, as Dr. Coren points out, are what is known as cursorial animals, which means that their initial response to a threat is to run away. Our embraces, rather than serving their purpose as a means of affection, instead results in anxiety because they are immobilized and unable to move in case they feel the need to.
So, the next time you encounter a dog, hold back your urge to hug and tightly embrace it, and consider displaying your affection through alternate ways, such as a pat on the back or a treat.