The Dog Hugging Dilemma: Do You Or Don’t You?

Dog huggers received some bad news on April 13, when an article surfaced in Psychology Today condemning the practice of cuddling canines.

Dogs should not be hugged, the article insisted.

“You really shouldn’t hug a dog. They don’t like it and it raises their stress level.”

The explanation for this was embedded in a dog’s primal reactions, describing a dog as a “cursorial animal” needing an avenue of escape.

“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.”

As evidence, the author, Stanley Coren Ph.D, scoured the internet for photos of people with their dogs. In each photo he looked for signs of discomfort or stress in the dogs. These might include:

  • aversion of the head
  • “whale-eye” (showing the whites)
  • flattened ears
  • lip-licking
  • yawning
  • pawing the air, paws up

Of the 250 or more pictures surveyed, the majority of them did reveal a stressed expression on the dog’s face.

“I can summarize the data quite simply by saying that the results indicated that the Internet contains many pictures of happy people hugging what appear to be unhappy dogs.

“In all, 81.6% of the photographs researchers scored showed dogs who were giving off at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety.

“Only 7.6% of the photographs could rate as showing dogs that were comfortable with being hugged.

“The remaining 10.8% of the dogs either were showing neutral or ambiguous responses to this form of physical contact.”

One perhaps surprising conclusion of the data was that people seem to be particularly inept at reading their dogs’ emotions. Owners, especially children, do not pick up on the signs emitted by dogs when they are stressed or anxious.

A response came from Straits Times, where writer Ignatius Low penned an agonized column entitled, “But I Want To Hug My Dog.”

“In any case, many owners already do so much for their dogs. Surely they are entitled to some payback on their own terms?

“My dogs have the full run of the house around which dozens of squeaky toys are scattered, eat home-cooked food, enjoy air-conditioning 24 hours a day and go to daycare with their doggie buddies once a week, I grumbled to a colleague as we discussed Dr. Coren’s study last week.

“So I don’t care, I want to hug my dogs.

“‘I dare you to say that!’ was her reply. ‘All the animal activists will have you lynched!’”

Maybe not. Dog trainer Corey Cohen loves hugging his dog, and according to WNEP, he recommends it to his clients.

“It is such a benefit to hug your dogs. To your dogs, to the people, to everyone involved, it just creates so much good will, a sense of wellbeing, it reduces stress.”

Cohen owns, “A New Leash On Life,” a business where he has been working with dogs for three decades.

“I was incensed. This goes against every fiber of my being, this study.”

Cohen started the, “Give Your Dog a Hug” Facebook page, and asked people to post photos of dog huggers with content canines. The page is rife with pictures. The dogs’ eyes are soft; they are clearly relaxed and feeling the love.

Another consideration is the Thundershirt, a scientifically-formulated training aide designed to calm dogs’ fears during storms and other stress-inducing stimuli.

The shirt wraps tightly around the dog, offering security and emotional support through contact that resembles, well, a hug.

One would think that if a hug stresses a dog, then a Thundershirt should have the same effect.

Editors at MNN did a test to see if the Thundershirt actually succeeds as a panacea for stressed-out dogs.

Holly Roseberry purchased a Thundershirt for her dog Josie, who “struggles with a host of issues including anxiety over flashlights, phones, cameras and sudden noises. Josie shared Siri’s deer-in-the-headlights response to wearing the Thundershirt at first, but it diminished over time. Roseberry said the Thundershirt reduces Josie’s tendency to jump around during car trips and also stops excessive panting.”

“Every time I have put on the shirt, it has calmed her. She no longer stands in one place. It stops her panting and ‘wild eyes.’”

There are definitely strong arguments in favor of dog hugging. To hug, or not to hug? The answer seems to be a case-by-case thing, lying deep within the dog-owner bond.

[Image via Juan Aunion/Shutterstock]