Sunday, May 1, 2016

Riggs Rideout: A Challenge to Hug-Hating Dog Expert Stanley Coren

Dear Dr. Stanley Coren, 

I would like to express concern about your recent article in Psychology Today: “Don’t Hug the Dog! – New data shows that hugging your dog increases its stress and anxiety levels.” 

I’m aware of your reputation Dr. Coren. You’ve written a lot of books and articles about dogs, and seem to be highly regarded as an expert. Normally, I’d hesitate to take issue with your views, but your article has raised anxiety levels around my house. My owner, AKA “Mom,” is hugging me less and when she does, she’s scrutinizing me for the signs of stress you identified, such as yawning, looking away, lip-licking and whale eye.  

And because she’s staring at me—probing, evaluating, over-analyzing—of course, I yawn and avert my eyes. So now she’s wracked with self-doubt:  Has she been forcing herself on me all along? Has she missed the signs? Have I always hated the hug? 

In other words, because of your article, she’s second guessing and I’m not getting the luv I need. We’re not “us” anymore.
Do I look like I'm suffering?


Now, my mom is not a natural hugger. She comes from a long line of chilly stiff-upper-lip types. In fact, that’s the key to how I transformed her entire life: I provide an outlet for decades of backed-up hugs, and have likely prevented her from detonating one day. 

Has it always been easy to be on the receiving end of a hug-fest? No.  I am not a demonstrative dog, and rarely waste a wag on the undeserving. As a pup, mom’s sloppy affection got in the way of important things, like chasing and pinning the cat. At maturity, however, I began to see the upside of this hugging business. Granting permission to squeeze got me a free pass onto the couch, for starters. I used to play dead as she hauled me aboard so she wouldn’t know I liked it. Now, I have to compete with my “little sister” and it’s a free-for-all. 

We live in a cold climate, Dr. Coren, and a couch cuddle is hardly a punishment. Mom is well-padded and therefore preferable to the floor. Plus, she understands reciprocity: before she locks me down and falls asleep, she offers a decent amount of patting, or “forehug.” If she tries cutting it short, I let her know she’s not done with paw twitches. Inevitably, I slip into sweet dreams of rabbit-chasing, sometimes waking mom up with yips. Other times, she wakes me with her snoring (don’t tell her I told you).

In short, hugging works for us. So I would like to inquire, respectfully, about your research methodology. What dogs did you survey in your research? Terriers? Border Collies? Dogs-with-jobs types? And who was doing the hugging? Owners, strangers, or unpredictable small humans? And by what means did you gather input from dogs? 

I know dogs are as different as snowflakes. All I can
Make mine a choke-hold!
tell you is that I, Riggs Rideout (a dog model of some repute), rarely turn down a hug. I don’t just endure it, I solicit it. Although I welcome hugs from a variety of people, including children, I will agree that strangers should use common sense, even with a calm doodle like me. Normally, I insist on a few dates and a whole lot of head scratching before permitting a home run. 

In closing, Dr. Coren, I want you to know I am available as a consultant in your future research. I can’t resist mentioning that many years ago, Mom read your book Why We Love the Dogs We Do. That’s the one with the personality test telling humans which breed of dog suits them. She recalls that the Beagle came up as her ideal match. Not to disparage you—or Beagles for that matter—but it’s pretty obvious that a doodle is her perfect partner.  

Is it possible you have a purebred bias? I don’t want to start a flame war, here. Rather, I’d like to encourage you to go and give your dog—whatever the breed—a great big hug. Don’t stare or pester him/her with questions. Sometimes, a yawn is just a yawn. 

Respectfully yours, 

Riggs Rideout,
Dog Model

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