You probably embrace your cuddly canine pals to show your affection, but have you ever noticed how they react?
An article written by neuropsychologist Stanley Coren featured in Psychology Today has revealed that hugging actually induces stress and anxiety in dogs. This means that although hugs are comforting for us humans, the gesture is interpreted differently by these animals.
Coren's study analyzed 250 photos of people hugging their dogs and scanned for known signs of anxiety in the animal.
Signs of stress and anxiety in dogs include the following:
1. Whites of their eyes are more visible
2. They turn their head away from the source of anxiety
3. Eyes are closed
4. Ears are slicked back or lowered behind head
5. Licking his lips
7. Raising paw
Data revealed that 82 percent of the dogs in those photos displayed at least one sign of stress. Only 8 percent of the dogs appeared to be happy with the gesture, while the remaining 10 percent looked neutral or showed an ambiguous response.
Why Dogs Dislike Hugging
Coren explained that because dogs are "cursorial" animals - they possess limbs adapted for swift running - their first line of defense when stressed or threatened is not to bite, but to run away.
Hugging your dog may be equal to depriving him of the ability to run. Therefore, immobilizing him with a hug can increase his stress levels. If his anxiety gets extremely intense, he may bare his teeth or bite, Coren said.
Senior canine behaviorist Claire Matthews agrees.
"A hug might be a normal social greeting for humans but it isn't for a dog," said Matthews, who is a member of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, a center for abandoned cats and dogs.
Matthews said we could miss subtle signals of stress and anxiety when we're hugging our pets. This could ultimately lead to a negative reaction, she added.
So What Should You Do?
Coren recommends saving your hugs for your two-footed family members and loved ones. You could still express your affection for your dogs, but you could do it in several different ways.
You could try the following:
1. Give your dogs a belly rub.
2. Give your dogs a good pat on the head.
3. Reward your dogs the occasional treat, but don't give them food that are toxic for them.
4. Tell them a kind word: "Who's a good boy?"
5. Calmly stroke your canine friend.
Most dogs love interacting with people, and because they are more often than not part of our families, it is important to recognize their signs of anxiety and stress. That way, you would keep your family and your canine pal safe.
Photo: Connie Ma | Flickr