Dogs are a man’s best friend, and like some of man’s best friends, dogs might get stressed when man starts trying all that sappy and vulnerable hug stuff, according to one dog-hug truther and professor emeritus of psychology. In a piece for Psychology Today, Stanley Coren surveyed 250 randomly sampled photos of humans hugging dogs on Google and Flickr and found 81.6% of the animals showed signs of stress. Coren notes that signs of a dog’s stress include: bared teeth, turning head away, widening eyes to reveal their whites in a half-moon shape, licking, yawning, raising a paw, letting ears fall flat against the head. (I’m no expert but this encompasses the range of things I have known dogs to do. Maybe my presence stresses them out in general.)
To be clear, this was just a professional’s informal survey, so its status may lie somewhere in between Hot Take and Peer-Reviewed Study. Coren explained this counterintuitive result by appealing to dog psychology: A dog’s primary response to a threat is to run, and hugging closes off this option and makes them feel trapped, leading to increase in stress. His recommendation for expressing dog affection: “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.”
Dog lovers attempted refute Coren’s points with images of themselves hugging apparently happy dogs. One critic argued that the dogs were stressed not by the hugs but by the staged photo shoots, a compelling theory if you think about the process that culminates in freakish, sterile stock images. Here, as in most cases where people hope to draw spicy generalizations, the answer probably lies somewhere in the grey: some dogs dig hugs, plenty don’t. Maybe even most don’t. Unless you can somehow tune into your dog’s internal monologue and confirm that the hug makes him happy like it makes you, you may be better off lovingly petting him than entangling him in your hairless ape limbs.