'It's a matter of safety': Why a UBC researcher says don't hug your dog
Published Wednesday, April 27, 2016 7:55AM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, April 27, 2016 8:30AM EDT
Owners may love hugging their pooches, but a canine expert says, for most dogs, the feeling isn't mutual.
Stanley Coren, UBC professor emeritus of psychology and a canine expert who has published 17 books on the subject, says some dogs may be alright with cuddling from their owners, but the majority find the experience stressful.
Coren says he became interested in studying dogs’ reactions to hugs from humans when he brought his own dogs to a "Doggy De-Stress Day" on the campus of a local college.
"You could see lots of students going over and hugging the dogs and the dogs were showing all sorts of stress signs. They were yawning and their ears were down, that sort of thing," he told CTV Vancouver.
Coren wrote, in an article published in Psychology Today, that dogs’ first instinctive line of defence is to run away. By hugging the animals and restricting their ability to flee, it could lead the dog to bite instead.
Surprised at the lack of research on the matter, Coren began looking at photos of humans hugging dogs online. Based on his analysis of 250 photos, Coren says four out of every five of the dogs showed signs of stress.
"I'm not saying you shouldn't love your dog, I'm saying you shouldn't hug your dog. There are other ways of expressing your affection to them," he said. "You can give them a pat, you can talk to them, that "sing-song" voice that we use for our dogs 'oh what a cutie you are!' or you can give them a treat, but hugging is an inappropriate expression."
However, some dog owners don't agree with the findings.
"I don't believe that at all. I think dogs love hugs, and I know personally, I love hugs too," a dog owner named Brandi told CTV.
Coren acknowledges some people may disagree, but he says there is a safety element to consider.
Children are more likely to hug dogs, Coren says, and if it stresses a dog, the interaction might not end well.
"If we hug our dogs all the time, whether they like it or not, our kids see us doing this and they will go over to unfamiliar dogs and hug them. That's a precipitating factor when kids get bit by dogs. It's not trivial, it's a matter of safety."
For those dog owners who do want to make their pooch happy, Coren has a simple solution.
"You want to make a dog happy? Reach into your pocket and give him a dog cookie."
With a report from CTV Vancouver