Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dogs and hugs FAQ

Stanley Coren, well known and respected author on dog cognition, recently published a blog post about dogs not enjoying hugs. Now that I have been asked to weigh in on his post by my father ("that can't be true!"), my lab mate ("Jessica will have some useful insights about this!"), and multiple dog park friends, I feel compelled to spread my wisdom across the internet for the benefit of all, whether they want it or not.

Source: The Data Says "Don't Hug the Dog!", Stanley Coren, Psychology Today

  1. Does your dog enjoy being petted by you? Almost certainly.
  2. Does your dog enjoy being grabbed and squeezed? Probably not.
  3. Do any dogs enjoy being grabbed and squeezed? I am sure there are some. I know some dogs who enjoy all interactions with humans up to and including getting whacked up side the head (I live with one). But as a species generalization, I believe they mostly don't.
  4. Should you hug random dogs when you meet them? Absolutely not. But you knew that already, right?
  5. Should you hug your own dog? Sure. I do it to my dogs sometimes. Just be aware that you are doing it for your own enjoyment, not theirs. My dogs tolerate the occasional squoze. I tolerate being punched in the butt when I get home from work.
  6. How can it be that dogs, who love us so much, don't enjoy hugs, which we enjoy so much? Well, note that primates really love pressing our tummies against each other, but canids don't (except when they are initiating sex or displaying poor manners). They display affection other ways: licking you in the face, sitting next to you, leaning on you. With someone who moves at the same pace they do, you sometimes see them walking or running shoulder to shoulder. I would love to hear from people about what they think their dogs do instead of hugging.
  7. Was Coren's study a good study? It wasn't actually a study, and Coren didn't say it was; in his blog post, he refers to it as data. This data set was pretty interesting and it was nice of him to share it with us. It would be even nicer if someone did a study using similar approaches, but with a control group, maybe having the person scoring the dog body language blinded to the group the dog is in (editing out the human so you can't see the hug?), and published it in a peer reviewed journal. Oh, and while I'm asking, make it an open access journal, please.
  8. Where can I learn more about dogs and hugs? In my mind the best resource is Dr. Patricia McConnell's coverage in her classic book, The Other End of the Leash. Which is a must-read for oh so many reasons.


  1. Yes! Patricia McConnell's book is what I've been recommending to everyone who asks me about that study as well(great minds, right? :P ).

    I also wanted to add that I think Coren's data analysis here is seriously flawed. From an objetive, scientific standpoint the number of variables involved with taking random pictures from the internet makes the data useless.

    McConnell's approach in her book is much more solid and meaningful in my opinion.

    Also it behooves us to actually define what we mean by "hug". I agree with you that there are probably a handful of dogs in the entire world that would enjoy a full out human style embrace. But my dogs, for example, always snuggle/lean/cuddle/etc into me, which I would consider a hug.

    1. Yeah, when people tell me their dogs love hugs, I always wonder exactly what they mean by "hug". I suspect hugging has many different manifestations in the dog/human world!

    2. Exactly, I was just thinking about it a few minutes ago when one of my girls leans her head into the crook of my neck. She does this as a sign of affection, for sure. I really want a study to be done(or maybe it has and i dont know about it) on the eyes. My personal opinion is that the expressions made by a dog with her/his eyes are the most human-like, I feel like I can tell everything I need to know just by watching them.