You Really Shouldn’t Hug Your Dog

If you happen to be a dog owner, there’s one question I’d like to ask you: have you hugged your pooch lately?

Melvin Durai's HumorHugging or cuddling dogs is something many pet owners like to do.

Not me. No way. Forget about it.

When I’m in a mood to give a hug, I usually go through a long list of potential recipients before I come to my dog, a list that includes my wife, my three kids, my TV, my computer and my garbage can.

I know what you’re thinking:  how could you possibly prefer to hug the garbage can than your dog?

Well, for one thing, the garbage can, unlike my dog, makes a decent effort to hug me back. It doesn’t turn its head away or try to escape (although it once fell over backwards, perhaps because it couldn’t stand my breath).

Secondly, the garbage can, unlike my dog, gets washed regularly. And once it’s clean, it does not immediately run outdoors and roll in the stinkiest pile of rotting matter it can find.

Thirdly, the garbage can, unlike my dog, does not hit me in the face with a long

My dog, Legacy – or more accurately “our dog” – does get hugged a lot in my household. My wife hugs her. My younger daughter, Divya, hugs her. And all the fleas in the world hug her.

But she does not get any hugs from me. She would have to do something really spectacular to get a hug from me, such as discover a cure for cancer. If the Nobel Prize Committee called my house to invite Legacy to Oslo, I’d certainly be eager to give her a hug. But the truth is, if the Nobel Prize Committee ever called my house, it would be hard for me to give anyone a hug, because I would die of shock.

So Legacy is probably never going to get a hug from me. But please don’t judge me, all you pet owners who hug your dogs. I’m sure there are things I’ve done with Legacy that you’ve never done with your dogs. I bet you’ve never watched an entire episode of “Quantico” with your dog. Trust me, it isn’t easy to train a dog to sit still and watch a TV show, even if Priyanka Chopra is in it.

And before you get too self-righteous with all your dog-hugging, let me point out a new study by Dr. Stanley Coren, a canine expert and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada. (A “canine expert” is a “dog expert” who possesses a PhD.)

Coren conducted the type of study that many of us enjoy doing. Yes, he googled pics on the Internet. No, not pics of Priyanka Chopra, but pics of dogs being hugged by adults or children. He looked for any signs of discomfort, stress or anxiety exhibited by the dog, such as lowered ears, a raised paw or a thought bubble with the words “Enough already! Go hug the garbage can instead.”

Surprisingly, the professor found that in 81.6 percent of the photos, the dogs looked anxious, stressed or uncomfortable. In 7.6 percent, the dogs looked comfortable, and in the remainder, the dogs were neutral. (It’s not clear from the photos, of course, how many of these dogs were being hugged by men wearing Old Spice.)

Coren believes that the dogs were uncomfortable because they felt trapped – they couldn’t run away, as they like to do when danger presents itself.

“The clear recommendation to come out of this research is to save your hugs for your two-footed family members and lovers,” he writes in Psychology Today. “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.”

A kind word? Sounds good to me. I’ll even give Legacy six kind words: “No hugs from me today, girl!”

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. Great stuff, Melvin. I love the way you break down mental walls with humor!

  2. Steve Muturi says:

    A question for Dr. Coren; what about one-footed family members? 😛

  3. It probably depends on the dog.

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