One of the most wonderful things about having pets is the endless hugs, snuggles, and kisses we share with them.
Yet, there’s been a lot of buzz recently about an article published in Psychology Today, “The Data Says ‘Don’t Hug the Dog!’” Dog psychology expert Stanley Coren studied 250 random Flickr photos of people hugging their dogs, and noted that about 82% of dogs pictured showed signs of stress.
In the photos, dogs showed stress signs such as lip licking, eye contact avoidance, lowered ears, yawning, and “whale eye” – a concerned, strained look during which you can see the white part of the dog’s eye.
“Dogs are technically cursorial animals… they are designed for swift running. That implies that in times of stress or threat the first line of defense that a dog uses is not his teeth, but rather his ability to run away,” said Coren, “immobilizing him with a hug can increase his stress level and, if the dog’s anxiety becomes significantly intense, he may bite.”
Give Hugs Dogs Love
“But my dog loves hugs,” many internet commenters argued, and we can’t help but relate. Everyone knows a dog who craves affection, and pushes his head under your arm for snuggles.
A traditional, human-to-human hug means a hearty squeeze. If you’re giving your dog those tight hugs, you might not be able to see their face while you do it – so you might be missing their stress signals.
Stick with a loose, one-armed hug that gives your pet plenty of room to walk away if they feel uncomfortable. Pause every few seconds to make sure they’re enjoying it. If they paw at you or press their body against you for more cuddles, they’re definitely having a good time.
Pets and scratches are even more enjoyable for your dog. Chest rubs, belly rubs and behind-the-ear scratches are best, while head pats are less than desirable.
Cats were not mentioned in the study, but it’s important to consider their feelings too. Your cat will make it obvious when they’re enjoying your snuggles by pressing against your body, purring and falling asleep. A stressed cat will hold their ears back or down, and will have a look of discontent on their face.
Avoid tight hugs that your cat cannot easily escape from. Try lounging next to your cat and offering gentle, luxurious scratches. When your cat craves more affection, they’ll get as close to you as possible.
Teach Your Kids to Hug Your Pets Right
Children need to know how to appropriately hug their cats and dogs. Avoid leaving small children and pets unattended.
Kids are at risk for getting bitten because they cannot always understand how animals show affection differently than humans. They will not recognize signs of stress until they’re taught to look for them.
Teach your kids to gently pet and scratch their animal siblings, and discourage kisses on the lips – as cute as it looks in pictures, it’s not so fun for the animal. Doggonesafe.org is a great resource for teaching kids about safety around pets.