This week has been full of a new study by canine expert Stanley Coven. Wherever you look online at the internet news and stories, the media is trumpeting the infallibility of this latest study that proves humans shouldn’t hug dogs, period.
Reading the article published by Coven leaves a lot to be answered though. His research was published in Psychology Today in April 2016 and described the process.
Coven searched the internet and picked a random sample of 250 photographs of humans hugging their dogs, focusing on a close up of both human and canine expressions, and only using photos posted on the web by the owners. Each image of the dog was then rated as either neutral (no reaction obvious in the dog’s demeanor), relaxed, or having one or more signs of physical stress. In over 81% of those photographs, the dogs showed signs of stress.
Why though is this study seen as infallible? The new truth that will be oft quoted in future discussions on the subject?
The science behind the study is questionable. The random selection of photographs done by Coven himself could have been influenced by his own agenda or perception. Another person who selected 250 such images might have picked differently.
The use of photographs only is debatable. The context and setting of each photograph is unknown. There is no neutral observer, no knowledge of the situation, the environment or dynamic.
The question of nature and nurture also comes to mind. Breeds have their own traits, as do individual dogs have unique personalities. Nurture, or the reality of how each canine was raised, and how it learnt to interact with humans also plays a part.
Don’t get me wrong, not all dogs like physical attention, some like to be in control of the situation, or know the human that is reaching for them. Learning the signs of a dog’s stress and its physical comfort is essential for safe handling. It all boils down to know your dog. And, yes, don’t assume he or she wants to be squeezed in a bear hug.
The conclusion from this very public study is misleading and limiting, just like the methods used. “Save your hugs for your two-footed family.”
Rosie, a 45# Akita/ Lab mix, woke from a two hour surgery, lying on a blanket on the floor of the vet’s clinic. She saw her human family and staggered over, climbed onto a lap, and lay her head on a shoulder. She breathed deeply when hugged, and fell asleep reassured. This dog needed a hug.