Happy February 15th… the day *after* the day we celebrate love in all its many glorious forms. I think it’s sadly fitting that given Valentine’s Day’s sort of shady reputation (c’mon, even if you like it, how many of your friends find it to be a major bummer?) that we post a report on how much your dog would rather go back to the hand-holding stage of your relationship.
As seasoned dog people we have all be exposed to a massive amount of helpful information and guidance regarding dog bite safety (especially for kids), and a major component of that is to not hug dogs. This was born from a study that showed that hugging was when the majority of bites occurred (particularly to the face and upper body) but the study’s authors stated they believed it was because hugging brought your face and upper body in closest proximity to the dog’s mouth. So they focused on opportunity instead of motivation – the assumption being that the dog would have bitten at that moment no matter what was going on. However, there is new research that says maybe the reason the dog bite happens at all is because by hugging them we are stressing them out to an extreme extent.
The research was based on 250 randomly found internet photographs where a dog was being hugged by a human. The criteria was that a majority of the dog’s face had to be shown and that the dogs had to be in positions that were not inherently anxiety producing (i.e. held in the air). In over 80% of the photos, the dogs were exhibiting some form of anxiety/stress/displeasure in their facial expression (closed eyes, lip licking, eye avoidance, ear pinning, etc.). In 10%, the dogs were showing neutral of ambivalent expressions, while in just over 7% the dogs showed pleasure in being hugged. Those 7% of dogs are the ones that shine as therapy dogs at De-Stress events.
As a side note about the research materials in this study… it’s ironic that the entire reason people posted these photos in the first place was to show how close they are with their dogs. This was point not missed by the researchers either.
I know what you’re thinking because I thought it, too… So what’s up with that?!? I can’t believe that my dogs doesn’t LURVE being hugged on by me! Well, maybe you dog does lurve being hugged. Remember 7% of the dogs in the photos looked like they were enjoying the interaction. But in case your dog is a dog that gets stressed out by being hugged (and be honest – look at how he reacts to being hugged!), there is a really good reason why – he’s wired that way.
Dogs are technically cursorial animals, which is a term that indicates that 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. 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. Pyschology Today: The Data Says “Don’t Hug the Dog!”, Stanley Coren Ph.D., F.R.S.C.
It’s a tough pill to swallow given how hardwired humans are to want to hug and be hugged that your dog may not feel the same but it doesn’t mean your dog doesn’t love you – he would just rather hold your hand.
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