Friday, May 6, 2016

Hold On Loosely

So there’s been a report making the rounds that says you shouldn’t hug your dog. My dogs and I find this news very disturbing.

Dr. Stanley Coren, a retired professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, examined photos of people hugging their dogs and concluded that, in most cases, the hugged dogs exhibited signs of stress. Such signs include partially closing their eyes, turning their heads, yawning, or laying their ears back. Dr. Coren says that a dog’s default defense mechanism is to run when threatened, so a confining hug causes Fido or Fidette to feel trapped, which makes him or her feel stressed.

Someone suggested that maybe the dogs looked stressed because they didn’t like posing for photographs.

We dog huggers don’t hug them to confine them. We hug our dogs because we love them. I suppose it’s possible that they feel like they’re prisoners of our love.

My Good Wife and I have three dogs, or, better put, three dogs have us. They’re all rescues. Little Jack, the Papillon house dweller, is a ten-pound dog wannabe. There’s not enough of him to hug, so he doesn’t figure into this discussion.

Our other two dogs—the real dogs—live outside. They each weigh between fifty and sixty pounds. They’re both mutts. Stevie, who may or may not be a Shepherd mix, is reserved, timid, gentle, and nervous. He’ll sometimes approach you and deign to accept your affection. It seems to me that he doesn’t mind a hug, so long as you don’t squeeze him hard or long. Rainey, who is a Heeler mix, is outgoing, friendly, and affectionate. Sometimes she hugs me. It doesn’t stress me out.

My non-professional, biased, self-serving, based only on my own limited experience opinion is that it’s probably OK to hug your dog, so long as you don’t squeeze too tight, don’t hug too long, and don’t try to hug while the dog’s trying to eat. I’d be cautious about hugging a dog you don’t know.

There’s a life lesson in this.

Some folks are huggers, and some aren’t. My Good Wife and I are very accomplished huggers. We’ve had lots of practice. One of the many reasons I fell in love with her is that when I hug her, I can rest my chin on top of her head. As I’ve gotten older and more tired, that’s been helpful. There’s still nothing I like better than sharing a good squeeze with her. It makes me feel secure, wanted, and loved. Evidently, she likes it, too, since mere toleration would not communicate the warmth I feel in her embrace.

Whether or not you’re a hugger, you still have relationships with people who are very important to you. We want such folks to be close to us. We want them to stay with us. Here’s the thing, though: if we try to hold them too tightly, we might stifle them and cause them to feel like they have to leave us to find freedom to live. Besides, such clinginess is usually motivated by insecurity more than by love. But if we act like we don’t want to hold them all, we might cause them to think they don’t matter very much to us, and they’ll figure there’s no point in staying. People need to know they’re appreciated and valued. They need to know they’re loved.

Balance is the key. Our spouses or partners need to know they matter to us. But they also need to know that they are free to be who they are meant to be and to do what they are meant to do.

The best guidance I can offer was uttered many years ago by those wild-eyed Southern prophets, .38 Special: “Hold on loosely. But don’t let go.”

It’s a good way to treat your dog. And each other …

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