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Do Dogs Hate Hugs?……..Not necessarily :)

18 May 2016

No not at all, hate is an emotion attributed to humans, not animals. The recent ‘study’ published by Psychology today (here) had the dog community in total confusion. Some were happy with the research, others not so much, as the study said that “dogs hate hugs”. My opinion? Well here’s the thing, I’m personally not a fan of poor science, or the over use of anthropomorphism in general. When the two are mixed together it makes me cringe. We can’t possibly know that they ‘hate’ hugs, dislike maybe. Although many also enjoy and actively seek out hugs. Therefore, this misplaced generalisation already aggravates me. Despite this, it is true that many dogs find hugs aversive or threatening however, their ability to like or dislike something depends on a variety of factors, which cannot be addressed by simply looking at random photos found online, which was the foundation practise of the study. When looking at a photo it’s impossible to know the following, which will affect the dogs reaction:

  • The situation or circumstance
  • Previous learning about the person doing the hugging
  • Early life experiences and social development
  • Previous learning experience
  • Individual temperament
  • Genetic factors
  • Medical factors
  • And many more

If we take the picture at the top of this page for example. I think the caption expresses the dogs ‘awkwardness’ fairly well. It’s ears are back, it’s face is tight and you can see the whites of the dogs eyes, known as whale eye, which are all signs of anxiety and uncertainty in dogs. So it would be fair to say that in this situation, the dog isn’t enjoying that hug, at that exact moment, in that specific context.

However, what we don’t know is;

  • How long the dog has been in this situation for?
  • Has this picture been taken several times to get the right shot?
  • How does the dog respond to camera?
  • Does the dog know this child?
  • Among others which demonstrates some of the flaws with this ‘study’.

Whereas the picture to the left, featuring myself and my 5 year old Labrador Holly, you see a more relaxed expression, ears forward, no whale eye. However, her face looks slightly tight and her tongue is not as relaxed and floppy, as a ‘relaxed’ dog should be. However, what we do know in this circumstance, as I was there and remember, is:

  • It was a warm sunny day and she is tired after a walk in the woods,
  • Her tongue was caught after a nose lick to help cool herself down,
  • She enjoys hugs, though she isnt a fan of the camera and having her ‘selfie’ taken.

 

 

Rather than asking the question ‘do dogs hate hugs?’, what we should be focusing on is should we be hugging our dogs at all?

This is one of the many problems with multi species households –  miscommunication. As primates at our core, we display our affection through touch. We hug, we kiss, we touch to display affection to our loved ones, which is common amongst primates. However, dogs are not primates, they’re canines. Have you seen dogs hugging? (Except those videos where they have be trained to). Close contact between canines is often aversive in nature, not always but often.

Therefore, unless they have had the necessary early experiences and / or learning, to allow them to understand that hugs are our way of showing affection, many will see it as threatening, and as such they will display avoidance and defensive behaviours. This can lead to bites ‘out of the blue’ and a breakdown in relationships. Therefore, hugging the dog in general should never be encouraged, there are better ways to show affection to your dog!

However, this can be very disheartening for owners and it can feel like our dogs don’t ‘like’ us, which often isn’t the case, it’s just that such close proximity can be threatening and aversive to our dogs. Despite this many dogs will ‘tolerate’ our close and often annoying interactions. This level of toleration can be a ticking time bomb in some dogs, who get too much inappropriate interactions from both adults and children, until one day they snap, seemingly ‘out of the blue’ when in fact, they have been warning you that they don’t like this interaction for weeks, months, maybe even years.

If you want to find out if your dog likes or dislikes an interaction, try the 5 second contact rule….. Interact for 5 seconds then stop and move slightly away. Start facing side on to your dog with one hand only. If your dog was enjoying the interaction, they will move into you, paw you or nudge you etc. to ask you to keep going. If they stay still or move away, especially if they shake, chances are they didn’t like that interaction and you should try alternative interactions 🙂

To see what I’m talking about check out my video and see my dogs reactions for yourself, can you tell which one tolerates hugs and which one really, really enjoys them?

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