Dogs might be our best friends, but it’s not because they love all the hugs we give them. According to a new study published in Psychology Today, the vast majority of dogs do not enjoy hugs from humans. In fact, it stresses them out.

UBC professor Stanley Coren studied dogs’ reactions to getting a big ol’ hug from their human and found that 81.6 per cent of canines showed at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety. Coren looked at a random sample of 250 pictures of humans hugging their dogs and each received one of three scores:

  1. One could judge that the dog was showing one or more signs of stress or anxiety
  2. One could judge that the dog appeared to be relaxed and at ease
  3. One could decide that the dog’s response was ambiguous or neutral

Of the 250 photos, only 7.6 per cent showed dogs enjoying the hug. The rest, 10.8 per cent, appeared neutral.

dogs hate hugs study 2“I suppose that one aspect of the data that struck me as interesting comes from the fact that the photographs that I used were obviously posts by individuals who wanted to show how much they cared for and shared a bond with their pet. This means that the people who were doing the Internet posting probably chose photos in which they felt that both the person and the dog looked happiest,” Coren says. “This seems consistent with other research which suggests that people, especially children, seem to have difficulty reading signs of stress and anxiety based upon their dogs’ facial expressions.”

Signs of stress include “half-moon eye” or “whale eye” (where you can see the white portion of the eyes at the corner), lowered ears, lip licking or licking a person’s face, and yawning or raising one paw. Coren relates the lack of being able to read these signs to advice found on websites that say children shouldn’t hug dogs because it increases the chances of being bit. Dogs’ natural response to stress is to run but if it’s being held back, it might resort to biting.

“It is clearly better from the dog’s point of view if you express your fondness for your pet with a pat, a kind word, and maybe a treat.”

Our own Clark Kent appears to be neutral in hugging photos, but we’ll definitely up the treats and lessen the constricting hugs from now on.