Dogs do not like being hugged, an animal psychologist has said. Signs such as licking their lips, raising their paws or turning their head away are tell-tale signs dogs feel stressed when being embraced.
Preliminary results from a study suggest hugging makes dogs feel stressed and immobilised as they are cursorial animals — designed to run away swiftly. In an article published by Psychology Today, professor and neuropsychological researcher at the University of British Columbia, Stanley Coren argues that hugging stresses most dogs and makes them anxious.
Coren noticed signs of stress when analysing a random sample of 250 internet photographs of owners hugging their dogs. The most common signs of anxiety in a dog include turning their head away, showing what is commonly called a 'half moon eye' — the white portion of the eyes at the corner of the rim, and slicked or lowered ears against the side of their head. Lip licking, yawning, or even raising one paw are also signs that show a dog is stressed, while some dogs were even observed baring their teeth.
Coren's data has revealed that 82% of dogs showed at least one of these signs of stress, while just 8% of dogs were happy being hugged. The remaining 10% remained neutral or didn't show clear response towards the gesture.
He said: "Depriving a dog of that course of action by immobilising him with a hug can increase his stress level, and if the dog's anxiety becomes significantly intense, he may bite."
As an alternative to cuddling, Coren recommends petting your dog, giving him praise, or maybe even a treat. Behaviourists suggest that dogs should not be treated like humans — and a hug is definitely not for them.
Claire Matthews, a senior canine behaviourist at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, told the Telegraph: "Some people think that giving their dog a hug is a nice thing to do, but the reality is that a family pet will often tolerate a hug but doesn't like it.
"When you hug a dog it usually shows signs of stress because it invades their personal space – a person putting two arms around the neck of a dog can be interpreted as being intimidating and means that it can't move away from the situation it is uncomfortable with."