CHENNAI: We come from apes. Dogs come from wolves. It’s probably the most obvious thing that dogs are not big huggers. They lick, they sniff behinds of other dogs and they enjoy belly rubs. So why do most of us pet parents insist on wrapping our arms around our canines in embrace?
From an evolution standpoint, this behaviour goes back thousands of years. Apes have been found to hug each other when they are upset. So it’s not surprising that we are are similarly conditioned. I hug because as far back as I can remember, it’s what made me feel the most loved. A pat feels almost... impersonal.
And clearly, animal lovers around the world feel the same way, after the backlash that came from a recently released study which states that hugging your canine can actually ‘stress out’ your pet.
Dr Stanley Cohen, a professor emeritus at University of British Colombia took 250 images of people hugging their dogs off Google Images and Flickr, and surmised that the canines in 81.6% of these images showed signs of distress.
The author who has written several books on dog behaviour attributes it to dogs being ‘cursorial’ animals which implies that in the event of stress or threat, their first instinct is not to use their teeth, but to run. Human hugs curb this ability and make them feel trapped, according to Cohen.
But don’t generalise this theory to your own furry family member just yet. If your pooch snuggles up against you — there’s the paw right of passage to hug away right there.
However, dog behaviourists point out other subtle shifts in demeanour that often mean the opposite. These include leaning in the opposite direction, a nervous licking of the lips or when a dog opens its eyes wide and you can see the whites in a ‘half moon’.
And if you can’t catch the signs mid hug, here’s an idea. Take a selfie while hugging it out. It may offer you a lot more insight versus just a couple of likes on Facebook.
Hug Stressors to Watch Out For
If a dog leans away from you, it could mean it is moving away from what makes it uncomfortable
Wide eyes where the whites appear like a ‘half moon’
When the dog’s ears are low and against its head
Raising a paw
Nervous licking of lips