A lady hugging a dog.
Hugging your dog may make it stressed.
Credit: © Stojanovic

Australians love dogs. About 40 per cent of Australian households have a dog. And if you love your dog, you should give it a hug, right? Probably not, new research shows.

Stanley Coren, a psychologist and dog expert at the University of British Columbia, searched the internet for pictures of people hugging dogs. In more than 80 per cent of the pictures, the dogs were showing multiple signs of stress. Only 10 per cent looked to be having a good time.

Although this study has not gone through the usual scientific publishing process, it’s supporting the advice of dog behaviourists.

Dogs aren’t people and they don’t naturally hug each other. They are much more likely to lick each other’s faces or just stand together.

So why don’t dogs like being hugged? From a dog’s point of view, a hug can be very scary. Just imagine it – a big human comes over and instead of licking your face, they hold you tight, stopping you from running away. That doesn’t seem very friendly, does it?

It’s really tricky to tell how your dog feels because dogs display their emotions differently to humans. It’s even harder to tell when you’re hugging a dog, because you can’t see its face.

Here are some signs of a stressed dog:

  • They bare their teeth
  • You can see the whites of their eyes (known as half-moon eye)
  • They raise one paw
  • Their ears are pulled back
  • They lick their lips when they aren’t hungry
  • They yawn when they aren’t tired
  • They close their eyes
  • They turn their head away

It can be tricky to read a dog’s mood – a happy dog can do any of these things. But if a dog is doing several of these things at the same time, they might be stressed.

So next time you think your dog needs a hug, think again. Maybe you could pat their shoulder or take them for a walk instead.

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