Is it okay to hug your dog? Several years ago, word circulated around the internet that hugging is terrible for dogs. However, this isn’t entirely true. Here’s the quick answer: Fido may not hate your warm embrace, but he’s also not the biggest fan. He’s basically just tolerating it. Heartbreaking, isn’t it? But that doesn’t mean your dog doesn’t love you! Keep reading to find out what it is you need to know when it comes to hugging dogs.
The History Behind the ‘Don’t Hug Your Dogs’ Belief
You might have first heard the news that hugging dogs was bad back in 2016 when Stanley Coren, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, wrote a piece for Psychology Today titled “The Data Says ‘Don’t Hug the Dog!’”
In his article, Dr. Coren conducted a study where he looked at 250 photos of people hugging dogs to determine whether the dogs pictured were exhibiting symptoms of stress: yawning, ears back, avoiding eye contact, and licking their owner’s face, for example. He concluded that 81.6 percent of dogs in his study were showing at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety. So, people quickly took to different sides of the dog-hugging argument.
Coren admits that his study was not peer-reviewed — a step that all scientific research must go through in order to be considered legitimate by the scientific community. But there’s still some truth to the idea that it is bad to hug your dog.
Is it okay to hug your dog?
Dogs have an entirely different communication style than humans, so the manner in which you greet your best friend (or even a stranger) would be totally different to the way Rufus greets his dog-park pals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 4.5 million dog bites occur each year — some of which are the result of miscommunications between pet and owner.
The reason animal behavior experts warn people against hugging their pets is because when they do so, dogs display stress symptoms such as backing away, looking away, walking away, averting their gaze, and yawning, says Jenn Barg, director of operations at the Larimer Humane Society and an associate certified applied animal behaviorist. “As humans, we tend to want to show affections in the way that humans show affection. A lot of dogs learn to tolerate [hugs] from us.”
Bottom line? If your dog seems to really enjoy your hugs, go for it! Otherwise, find new ways to show him or her some love.
If we really want to shower our dogs with as much affection as they give us, we’ll have to learn to respect their boundaries. “The best thing owners can do to show that they love their dogs is to respect the dog’s comfort level, and if the dogs don’t enjoy being hugged, don’t do it!” Barg says.
Is there a proper way to pet your dog, if hugs are a no-go?
“Most dogs enjoy a nice neck and shoulder rub with long, slow strokes, and of course many dogs, including mine, offer up their belly for patting frequently,” says Terri Bright, PhD, a board-certified behavior analyst and professor at Northwestern University. “Primates hug. Dogs do not.”
Here’s another important tip: If you see a dog that isn’t yours (because it’s kind of hard not to pet a dog when you see one), resist the urge to run up to your new furry friend and tap him or her on the head.
“It would be great for dogs if humans could curb the impulse to thump every dog they see on the head. Many dogs don’t even like it when a person holds their hand out towards a dog. Think of how you feel when someone invades the space near you or over your head; it makes you nervous!” Dr. Bright says. “Instead, greet a dog by standing with your side facing them; pat your legs in an invitation to say hi, and, if the dog approaches and the owner gives permission, pet the dog on the chest.”
So, there you have it! Avoid hugging your dog if she’s showing signs of anxiety, and respect her space. Trust us, your pup would rather have a belly rub and a treat (just make sure it’s not a bone treat!). Your good boys and girls certainly deserve it.
More from FIRST
This article was originally published on December 4, 2017. It was updated on August 24, 2022 at 11:30 a.m.