Should You Hug Your Dog?

Should you hug your dog?Should you hug your dog? I would guess if you love your pet, you have probably given him a squeeze now and then. Some people do it more than others. If makes us feel good as well as our dog – or so we think. However, according to a study by psychologist and author Dr. Stanley Coren, hugging your dog actually raises its stress and anxiety levels.

I saw several news items related to this article recently – two on the local TV news plus the New York Times and Daily Mail. Apparently, Dr. Coren’s observations have sparked a conversation in dog world. Another writer, Marc Bekoff Ph.D., did a follow-up piece in Psychology Today entitled “Hugging a Dog Is Just Fine When Done With Great Care.”

The foundation for this belief is that dogs are cursorial animals, 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.” [source]

Dr. Coren, who is a canine expert and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, studied 250 photos of people hugging their dogs and saw signs of stress in 81.6 percent of the photos. This was indicated by the dog’s expression and body language, i.e. ears back, face licking, yawning and turning away. He concluded it was best not to hug, pet and praise is best. This was not a peer-reviewed scientific study, but did elicit a lot of reaction across social media.

Here are just a few examples from the New York Times Twitter feed (@nytimes):

“if my dog can lick me, I can hug it. that’s our deal.”
Tim Geoghegan, @timogeo

“Not my dog, he pushes himself into me when I do, and tries to lay next to me on the couch every time”
Keith Sunderland, @keithsunderlan3

“that’s what I’m like…dogs are a girl’s best friend you know, not diamonds!”
Maggie Scarborough, @strictlymagsy

“I love my dog and I hug and kiss her so what?”
Samira Souza, @SSouzafox

I too hug my dogs, but most of mine are small breeds. Sometimes, I also need to carry them somewhere, so I pick them up and wrap my arms around them. If this is the same as hugging, then it probably can cause stress. From personal experience, especially at every dog show I have attended, if you are holding your dog and someone asks to pet him, it is best to decline. People always want to play with the cute little puppy. But with Rocky, for instance, they are still a stranger and he would would rather be left alone. Bill, on the other hand, always seems completely calm. And maybe that’s why when I go to a book signing, I always take Bill. He’s a very social fellow.

I have found that in my experience interacting with dogs at the shelter, like Peaceable Kingdom, hugging seems to comfort stressed out dogs. Of course, just like with humans, they all have their unique personality along with preferences, defense mechanisms, and phobias.

Dr. Bekoff provided this very good advice: “So, a safe rule of thumb to follow, in my humble opinion, is to pay close attention to what you know about the individual dog and what she or he is telling you. And, if you’re unsure, don’t hug the dog! Better safe than sorry. Just like people, some dogs love it, some sort of like it, and some may not like the close contact at all. This follows in line with the fact that dogs are not all unconditional lovers nor sponges for hugs, and we need to respect these differences when interacting with them.”

So what do you think? Let me know on my facebook page at

In my next post I will discuss more in-depth how you can tell if your dog is exhibiting signs of stress and anxiety.

For further reading, please check out the following resources:


Common Health Problems For Popular Dog Breeds (part 2)
Signs of Stress and Anxiety in Dogs