Humans love to hug – in fact, we see it as one of the best ways to communicate our love and affection.
But a new study claims our dogs feel exactly the opposite.
Dr Stanley Coren, a psychology professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and dog-training expert, wrote a blog post for Psychology Today about his canine research.
According to Dr Coren, our pets are likely to become distressed or even aggressive when forced to cooperate with a loving embrace, and in studying 2000 images of dogs being hugged, he found signs of distress in over 80 per cent of the animals.
John Harkin, owner of AusDog and dog trainer for 39 years, has spent decades convincing his clients that hugging a dog doesn’t make them happy – and boosts your chances of getting bitten on the face.
Hug? Challenge accepted
Mr Harkin told The New Daily that while we (usually) feel happy and connected after a hug, dogs see it as a challenge.
“If you watch two dogs sizing each other up, one may put his head over the neck of the other. That means he’s saying ‘I want to fight you mate’.”
Mr Harkin said it was like the difference between ruffling the hair of a young boy, compared with doing the same to an older man.
“The older man may think you are trying to mess him up. It’s the same with dogs.”
Having trained over 30,000 dogs during his career, Mr Harkin said television and popular culture often did us a disservice.
In fact, the Veterinary Society of America (VSA) was forced to release a statement in 2010, denouncing the message of a children’s book titled Smooch Your Pooch.
The line: “Smooch your pooch to show that you care. Give him a hug anytime, anywhere”, was found to put children in danger of being bitten and the VSA advised parents against buying the book.
“People like to humanise their dogs, but they’re totally different animals,” said Mr Harkin.
Jacob Leezak, owner of behaviour expert at the Dog Psychology Centre in Sydney said owners were to blame for 90 per cent of their dogs’ stress – often simply by not understanding their most basic needs.
Signs your dog is distressed
Dr Coren found only 10 per cent of dogs in his study didn’t seem to be agitated by their owner’s embrace.
Here are the tell-tale signs of agitation, useful for all owners worried they may be over-stepping the line when it comes to their pooch’s comfort.
Half moon eyes: When the whites of your dog’s eyes are visible both below and above the pupil.
Turning their head: A more subtle sign of stress, your dog will turn his head away from whatever is worrying him.
Licking: Dogs don’t only lick their lips when they’re hungry. If they lick their lips or your face that can be a sign of anxiety.
Yawning or raising one paw: These are more signs your dog might not be enjoying themselves.