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The next time you want to hug your dog … just don't

Think your dog likes being hugged? Think again. According to psychologist and author Stanley Coren, dogs actually don’t like being hugged, and the evidence is in the most obvious place — the lovely dog photos you post online.

It’s a widely accepted idea that dogs don’t like being hugged. Veterinarians and other dog experts caution people not to hug their pooch because it causes too much stress for the canine. And it’s not only bad for the dog; it’s also potentially bad for the people doing the hugging, since they could find themselves with a nasty dog bite from an overly stressed pup.

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Until now, this “no hug” advice was based on anecdotal evidence — observations of dog behavior and the experience of people who have been bitten. Coren, after noticing that there was little experimental evidence to support this claim, wanted to fill this gap in our canine knowledge, and began plundering the internet for photos of people and their pooches. He randomly selected 250 images to study and started looking at the dogs in the pictures for signs of stress.

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Signs of stress are easy to spot in dogs — the ears are lowered, the eyes will droop into a moon shape, and they will turn their heads away from the subject that is bothering them. They also may lick or raise up their paw in protest. Once he started analyzing the photos, it didn’t take too long before Coren noticed a trend — the Internet was filled with happy dog owners hugging very unhappy dogs. In over 81 percent of the photos, the dog being hugged was showing at least one sign of discomfort or stress. Only 7.6 percent of the dogs in the photographs appeared to be comfortable with being embraced.

Coren’s data suggests we should skip the dog and find a two-footed friend if we feel the need to hug someone. If we want to show love to our four-legged friends, it is better to offer a treat, a belly rub, or a pat on the head instead.