Most dogs do not like humans hugging them, according to a new study.
Stanley Coren, a psychology professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and an expert in dog training, wrote in Psychology Today that dogs are cursorial animals, which means they are physically designed for running.
According to Coren, when a dog is stressed its first instinct is to run away, so immobilizing canines with hugs actually increases their stress levels. If a dog gets stressed out enough from not being able to move, he or she may bite the person doing the hugging.
Coren added that the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) warned people years ago about a children's book that encouraged little ones to hug and kiss their dog whenever they wanted to. The AVSAB said "this information can cause children to be bitten."
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The signs that a dog is feeling anxiety, according to Coren, include: turning its head away, partially closing eyes ("half-moon eye" or "whale eye"), lowering ears, putting its ears slickly back on the sides of the head, licking its lips, licking someone's face, yawning and raising one of its paws.
Coren looked for these signs as he studied 250 online pictures of people hugging dogs. He found that 81.6 percent of the pictures showed dogs expressing at least "one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety," while 7.6 percent appeared to be comfortable and 10.8 percent were neutral.
The New York Times notes that Coren's report was not a scientific study reviewed by peers, but was rather his own observations, which not everyone agrees with.
Corey Cohen, a companion animal behavior therapist, told the newspaper, "My dogs love being hugged."
Cohen believes that pooches could like hugs from someone they trust and is familiar.
Cohen bases his assessment on how tension is released by dogs in certain muscles: slower breathing, softened smile and tilted edges of the mouth that resemble a smile.
Erica Lieberman, a New York City-based dog trainer and behavior consultant, said that in general, dogs should not be hugged because they may have an unknown socialization history (i.e. rescue dog).
In addition to Coren's anxiety list, Lieberman recommended that people watch for dog "cutoff signals," such as shaking as when wet.
Lieberman also advises against introducing yourself to a dog by putting your hands near its face.
"Keep your hands at your side and see if the dog approaches you. You have allowed it to be the dog’s decision," he said.