VET COLUMN: Hug your dog, but only when they consent to it

A recent report from an eminent human psychologist who has canine interests says that we should not hug our dogs. But what do you do when your dog insists on hugging you?

When I am sitting on the settee at night I am covered in dogs wanting cuddles and attention.
This research was carried out by looking at pictures posted on the internet of owners cuddling their dogs and then assessing the dogs’ reaction in relation to known dog behaviour.
The argument is that because dogs are cursorial (designed for running) that immobilising a dog with a hug will cause stress.
In the study 81.6 per cent of pictures showed one or more signs of distress, 7.6 per cent of pictures showed pleasure and 10.8 per cent displayed neither.
There is no doubt in my mind that dogs enjoy hugs but as with humans this has to be by mutual consent and at the right time.
How often do we see children being hugged by an elderly relative when they have not consented to it? You get the same look that dogs give when they have not consented.
There is a valid point here that we should not assume our pets want hugs or even attention from us all the time.
We have to invite each other to contact and interaction.
We very much underestimate our dogs.
They have a full emotional landscape and are not the dumb animals that I heard described on a recent radio program.
They may not be able to talk but they communicate to us in so many other ways.
I think the study done with these pictures on the internet is fundamentally flawed in that many of these pictures were initiated by the dogs’ owners to show their loving relationship with their pet and have thus been staged.
I am sure that things would have looked different if the pictures had been taken in a more natural setting.
We should also remember that most dogs do not like being lifted up and that even consented hugs are better at the dog’s level.
The fact that 7.6 per cent of pictures showed pleasure indicates that dogs do find hugs enjoyable in the right situation.
There is one area that needs careful attention – that is when young children hug dogs.
Young children have not yet learned that there are situations when hugs are not wanted and dogs are often wary of the unpredictable nature of young children.
It is not uncommon for young children to be bitten when hugging a dog and this is because the dog has not consented.
Your relationship with your dog is not dissimilar to that with a close family member, so go out there and enjoy those hugs (when mutually needed!)

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