The Science Behind Hugging Your Dog but Does it Really Matter to Your Lab


Believe it or not but how to hug your dog has been the subject of a real scientific study and guess what the outcome was: Not all dogs like being hugged.

Now if you think the outcome is too much like kicking down an open door if have to agree with you, however the study discovered some data interesting enough to share here with you.

Enjoy Watching the videos

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The Data Says “Don’t Hug the Dog!” | Psychology Today

I had brought my dogs to be part of a “Doggy De-Stress Day” on the campus of a local university. These are becoming more common for many colleges in North America and usually take place during midterm exam or final exam periods. The way it works is that dogs (often therapy dogs, but sometimes just well-behaved pets) are brought to campus and students get a chance to pet and interact with the dogs. The rationale here is that during exam periods stress levels run high in the student population, and there is ample evidence that shows that dogs can reduce stress levels. (Click here for more about that). So this seems like a simple method of making students feel a bit less hassled before and between their tests.

At one point during the event a diminutive woman came over to my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever puppy and gave him a hug. At the time, he was about six months old, and, like most puppies, relatively tolerant of any form of interaction. Nonetheless, in response to the girl’s hug he turned his head to break off eye contact, his ears slicked down, and gave a small stress yawn. I leaned over and said to her: “You really shouldn’t hug a dog. They don’t like it and it raises their stress level.”

The girl looked at me with an expression of disbelief and said, “I’m studying developmental psychology and there’s lots of evidence which says that hugging is important and pleasant. When a mother hugs her child the child gets a surge of the hormone oxytocin and so does the mother, and that hormone is associated with loving and bonding. There is evidence that says that if parents don’t hug and touch their child a lot, that child can grow up to be emotionally stunted. So how can you tell me that hugging isn’t good for dogs, especially for a puppy?”


The real answer to her question is, of course, that dogs are not human children. Dogs are technically cursorial animals, which is a term that indicates that they are designed for swift running. That implies that in times of stress or threat the first line of defense that a dog uses is not his teeth, but rather his ability to run away. Behaviorists believe that depriving a dog of that course of action by immobilizing him with a hug can increase his stress level and, if the dog’s anxiety becomes significantly intense, he may bite. For that reason, certain websites, which try to educate children and parents in order to reduce the incidence of dog bites (such as Doggone Safe), make a point about teaching children that they should not hug dogs. Furthermore, a few years back when a children’s book entitled “Smooch Your Pooch” recommended that kids hug and kiss their dog anytime and anywhere, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) felt that it was necessary for them to release an official statement that strongly advised parents to avoid purchasing the book, since “this information can cause children to be bitten.”

Given how widely accepted the idea is that hugging is not something that dogs like, and that hugging a dog may be associated with increasing the likelihood of a dog bite, I was surprised that a search of the scientific literature produced very little experimental evidence to support that belief. I did find two articles that showed that getting bitten on the face was much more likely if you were hugging or kissing a dog. However, the authors of both studies seemed to suggest that the proximity of the person’s face to the dog’s mouth was the most important factor, rather than something like the hug itself. For that reason, I decided to collect some data on this issue.

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The signs of stress and anxiety in dogs are well established, and are easily observable, at least by trained individuals. Obviously at the high-end of stress, we have dogs who bare their teeth. But, there are subtler indicators. The most common sign of anxiety is when the dog turns his head away from whatever is bothering or worrying him, sometimes also closing his eyes, at least partially. Alternatively, dogs will often show what is commonly called a “half-moon eye” or “whale eye” which is where you can see the white portion of the eyes at the corner or the rim. One common visible sign of stress or anxiety is when the dog’s ears are lowered or slicked against the side of his head. Lip licking or licking a person’s face can also be signs of anxiety, as can yawning or raising one paw. These signs and other similar ones should be easy to detect in stressed dogs. All that I needed then to conduct the research was a source of photographic material showing people hugging their dogs. retriever-being-hugged-by-woman

Fortunately for me, the Internet abounds with photographs of people and their pets. If you put the search terms “hug dog” or “love dog” into something like Google Image Search, or Flickr, you will get a virtually infinite scroll of pictures of people and their children hugging their pet dogs. I decided to look at a random sample of 250 such pictures. I used a variety of criteria to try to keep the data as clean and precise as possible. I only used photos where the dog’s face was clearly visible. I also eliminated situations where one might expect the dog’s stress level to rise because of factors other than being hugged (such as when someone lifts a large dog off the ground while hugging them). Each picture received one of three possible scores:

I can summarize the data quite simply by saying that the results indicated that the Internet contains many pictures of happy people hugging what appear to be unhappy dogs. In all, 81.6% of the photographs researchers scored showed dogs who were giving off at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety. Only 7.6% of the photographs could rate as showing dogs that were comfortable with being hugged. The remaining 10.8% of the dogs either were showing neutral or ambiguous responses to this form of physical contact.

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I suppose that one aspect of the data that struck me as interesting comes from the fact that the photographs that I used were obviously posts by individuals who wanted to show how much they cared for and shared a bond with their pet. This means that the people who were doing the Internet posting probably chose photos in which they felt that both the person and the dog looked happiest. Nonetheless, around 82% of the photographs show unhappy dogs receiving hugs from their owners or children. This seems consistent with other research which suggests that people, especially children, seem to have difficulty reading signs of stress and anxiety based upon their dogs’ facial expressions. (Click here for more about that.) Much more relevant for the current question is the fact that this data clearly shows that while a few dogs may like being hugged, more than four out of five dogs find this human expression of affection to be unpleasant and/or anxiety arousing.


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Hug an Old Dog Today | Psychology Today

I absolutely love puppies. Whenever I see one, I feel a kind of magnetic attraction pulling me toward it, making me want to touch it and cuddle it.  I want to smell Puppy Breath. But I have to confess that my heart really goes out to old dogs.According to the veterinary literature, dogs are considered geriatric when they turn 7 (5 for some larger breeds of dog, 9 for some smaller breeds). My little Maya is eight, which means she is now, officially, a senior citizen. (Does this mean we get discounts on dog food?) She is still active, and when she’s out running with me, she looks sleek and beautiful. But I notice that she sleeps a lot more these days. She is getting all kinds of lumps under her skin (called lipomas) and various skin tags are growing on her eyebrows and chin. The fur beneath her eyes is streaked with white.


Within the population of companion animals, the elderly is the fastest growing category with over 35% of all pets in the U.S. now considered, by their vets, geriatric. There are about 78 million companion dogs in U.S. households and 94 million cats, which means roughly 27 million geriatric dogs and 33 million geriatric cats. These numbers are likely to grow, as veterinary medicine offers an ever wider range of treatments, from organ transplants to hip replacements, and as better lifelong care increases pet life expectancies. In step with the changing pet demographic is a growing appreciation for the final stages of our companion animals’ lives: there are geriatric specialists, old-dog and old-cat foods, products designed help older animals maintain functionality, books devoted to caring for old pets, advice from trainers about how to deal with age-related behavioral changes, and old dog and old cat rescue organizations.

Despite increasing attention to the needs of old companion animals, for many, being old is a dark and unpleasant stage of life. There remains a deep prejudice against the old. Many elderly animals are euthanized simply because of their age, or because their human owners don’t have the patience or resources to adapt to their changing needs. Many more languish in shelters, where adoption rates for seniors are very low. Old animals too often suffer from untreated disease and pain, either because owners don’t recognize their changing needs or because they cannot or will not pay for adequate veterinary care.

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Aging can be hard on animals, and on their human companions. But the challenges of aging can invite us to know and love new dimensions of our animals, as we become particularly attuned to their evolving needs. It is a time for us to give back some of the unconditional love, patience, and tolerance that our pets offer us throughout their lives.

I have enjoyed the time with each of our dogs as they aged, and I think in the future when it’s time for a new dog we will adopt an older dog from our local shelter.

I loved my friend, Zelda. I wanted two dogs… Scott and Zelda. I only got one. She died at 11. Pancreatic Cancer and diabetes. And I was and am, devastated. She was peaceful, cool,and sympathetic. I remember that when I would sneeze, Zelda would come to me and press her body against me… wondering just what the hell was going on. One day, I was with Zelda off leash. She took off toward a two year old little girl waking with her parents. All I could say was “my dog won’t hurt her.” And Zelda didn’t. She stopped short of the girl… and sat down. Her tail wagged… and then she licked the little girl’s face. And the girl was delighted… laughing… and spinning… and loving Zelda. jZelda just sat there, waiting for the child again. When the parents saw what happened… they both dropped to the ground, laid on their backs… and Zelda love them all. Licking faces… laying on her side… and generally loving the family. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

My next adoption is definitely going to be an elderly dog. They need homes so badly and it seems extra sad for them to live out their final days in a stressful and unfamiliar environment.


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