Humans are huggers. Most of us just love to go up to the people we care for and give them a big, all-encompassing embrace. So why shouldn’t we do it to the furrier members of our families?
Because it’s totally stressing them out, that’s why.
As an article published in Psychology Today points out, dogs are telling us to quit doing it all the time, but we’re not reading the signals. As canine behaviorist Stanley Coren writes, when a dog gets hugged they interpret it very differently than we do.
Look for these signs of stress in your dog (or check out the approximately 2,398 photos you have of yourself hugging your pet):
- Turning his head away from whatever is bothering him
- Closing his eyes (full or partial)
- Eye whites (dogs have them, but we only tend to see them when the dog is stressed)
- Lowered or slicked-back ears.
If you’re seeing any combination of those actions, the dog is not melting from love of you; he (or she) is hoping you’ll back off. (It’s not the only thing we do that dogs hate; here’s a list of more behaviors)
Humans get a surge of the hormone oxytocin when they hug, and we often get that from our pets as well when we make eye contact or play with them.
But as Coren writes, “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.
He adds, “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.”
And that’s one “get away” sign you definitely don’t want from Mr. Fluffers.