Scientist Says Dogs Hate Hugs. Another Says He’s Wrong. Here’s Why.

Dogs are so adorable that it’s difficult to resist hugging and kissing them. We want to show them as much love as possible because they deserve it. However, most people have probably come across a study or article telling them to stop hugging their dog. A scientist has made it clear that dogs don’t like hugs, but most dog lovers would disagree. We know that our furry friends love cuddles, so could this claim be false?

Image: Svenska Mässan Flickr

What is the Claim?

Stanley Coren, Ph.D., posted an article called “The Data Says ‘Don’t Hug the Dog!’”. The main conclusion drawn from this article is that hugs should only be for other humans. He believes that praise, petting, and treats are the proper ways to show dogs affection instead.

After posting this information, many people became upset. They tried to defend their reasons for hugging and kissing their dogs. However, let’s take a look at his specific points before we get into what’s right or wrong.

In his article, he claims the following things:

Hugs Make Dogs Feel Trapped

Dogs are cursorial animals, which means they are adapted specifically to run. When they get stressed, their first instinct is to run, not bite. But when they’re embraced in a hug, it’s difficult for them to escape. This could cause unnecessary stress because they are not able to flee.

“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,” wrote Coren.

So, hugging a dog could cause them to bite since they cannot run like they want to. Coren states that dogs don’t associate hugs as a loving and bonding experience like humans do.

Dogs Show Signs of Stress

When dogs are stressed, they have a few different ways to tell us. Coren claims that most times when dogs are hugged, they show one of the following signs of stress:

  • Turning their head away
  • Closing their eyes
  • Make the white part of their eyes visible
  • Lowering their ears
  • Licking their lips
  • Yawning

These all seem like subtle actions, but they are clear signs that a dog is stressed. Of course, in extreme cases, their actions will be more obvious such as growling or showing their teeth. However, most of their warning signs are so minor that humans often won’t pick up on these hints, especially children.

Photos Prove That Dogs Dislike Hugs

In his study, Coren used photos of dogs to help validate his theory. He simply searched “hug dog”, which came up with thousands of results of humans cuddling their dogs. Coren chose a set of 250 photos to examine. He noted whether the dogs in each photo showed signs of stress, if they seemed comfortable, or if they seemed indifferent.

Coren found that 81.6% of the observed photos showed that at least one sign of discomfort was present. Then, only 7.6% showed dogs that were comfortable being hugged and 10.8% seemed neutral to the situation.

This information helped him conclude that the majority of dogs just don’t like hugs. However, even with this evidence in place, many dog lovers were still skeptical.

Why Might These Claims Be False?

After receiving lots of feedback about Coren’s claims, Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., decided to address the other side of the argument. He created a response article titled “Hugging a Dog Is Just Fine When Done With Great Care”.

Bekoff points out that instead of just denying the fact that dogs like hugs, humans should consider who the dog is. The overall message of “don’t hug dogs” only applies to some dogs in certain situations.

For example, if a person knows a dog really well, it’s more likely that the dog will be okay with being embraced by them. Every dog is different and there are always other factors that go into a dog’s stress levels. Therefore, not all dogs outright hate hugs. 

Here are some of the important points that Bekoff makes:

Pay Close Attention to the Context

If you feel compelled to hug a dog, Bekoff points out that you should take all factors into consideration. Not only should you think about how well you know the dog, but you should also pay attention to their body language and surroundings. 

Oftentimes, dogs don’t like to be hugged when there are other stressful situations going on around them. Every dog reacts to situations differently, so not every pup will always want to be hugged. For example, crowded areas can often make dogs more uneasy.

RELATED: Why Do Some Dogs Like Hugs And Not Others?

“Every single dog with whom I have had the privilege of sharing my home loved hugs from me and some of my friends,” wrote Bekoff. “However, two of them didn’t like hugs from anyone but me when there was a lot of noise; one didn’t like anyone close to him when there was food around; and one, who was terrified of thunderstorms, didn’t like hugs from anyone at all in the midst of thunder and lightning or shortly thereafter.”

So, Bekoff says to pay attention to each dog individually. One dog might love it while another might just want some time to themselves. If you are ever unsure of how a dog will react, it’s probably best to give them space, no matter how badly you want to cuddle them.

Hugging a Dog Should Be On Their Terms, Not Yours

Sometimes dogs are just so cute that we can’t resist hugging and kissing them! Dogs can’t tell us exactly what they want, so we need to read their body language to decide if they’re happy or not. If you hug a dog, it should be because they want to be hugged, not because you’re forcing it on them.

Dogs who enjoy hugs will often come running into your arms or find a way to ask for hugs. But other dogs just prefer to have some space. It’s perfectly fine to hug a dog if you know they’ll enjoy it, but if a dog is notorious for wanting to be alone, it’s much better respect their boundaries.

It would be a win-win for all: Those dogs who like hugs can receive and savor them, and those who don’t will be left alone and be just as happy,” wrote Bekoff.

Image: @louboutinanyc/Facebook

There are Studies Backing Up His Claims

In his article, Bekoff also acknowledged other opinions on this topic. He shared a comment from biologist Paul Paquet, who did a study on hugging and petting dogs during the 1970s. They recorded the responses of the dogs by monitoring their heart rate, respirations, and body language.

This study found that overall, dogs that were familiar with the person hugging them responded positively. Dogs that didn’t know the person were more cautious, but Paquet explained that they gradually relaxed. So, this study ultimately helped show that most dogs like hugs, especially if they knew the person ahead of time.

While Coren presented a study to prove the opposite, some commenters pointed out that photos cannot provide as much evidence as an in-person interaction can. Taking a photo of a dog can cause more stress than usual. A camera in front of a dog’s face along with humans trying to get them to look at the camera can be stressful enough. So, when looking at photos, it’s possible that the signs of stress could be due to the photos and not the hug itself.

In Conclusion… Dogs Can Enjoy Hugs!

Bekoff and Coren both point out that there’s still a lot that we don’t know about dogs. However, as dog parents, we know our own pups better than anyone else. By paying attention to your furry friend’s body language each and every day, you should be able to know if your dog loves hugs or not.

Coren isn’t completely incorrect though. Not every dog loves hugs. Most are not fond of strangers invading their personal space. But once a dog is comfortable with someone, they will start to see that these actions are a sign of affection and they’ll likely learn to enjoy them.

As Bekoff concluded, when you hug a dog, it’s on their terms, not yours. If your pup loves hugs, then there’s no reason to deprive them of that. But if you’re approaching a dog you’re unfamiliar with, it might be better to give them space until you can learn their behaviors better.

Dogs don’t hate hugs. In fact, many dogs actually like them. Every canine is different and unique. There are plenty of dogs out there that enjoy these forms of affection, so don’t stop showing your furry friend how much you love them.


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