Modern science can reach ridiculous conclusions in search of self-validation and in attempts to show with smoke and mirrors, aka the scientific method, the meaning of anything experienced by any being in the world. To be clear, science doesn’t exist for the rest of the 7.77 million other species on the planet – just for people. So it was with a decided “tha-dump” that a story appeared this week on NPR of all places, usually (I perceive) a bastion of fair-minded and impartial reporting, about the effect of hugs on dogs. To me the study seems like low-hanging fruit that surely could be replaced with other, more worthwhile subjects such as why humans maim, kill and mostly hate those different than themselves and damage the earth as a whole rather than sustaining it but I’m not the science monitor – yet.
A dog training expert and professor of psychology – actually a good combination for teaching people how to work with dogs as it’s people who need the help – revealed via a blog post in Psychology Today that dogs don’t like hugs. The points he enumerated in the original post are valid in terms of noted species differences, how dogs are wired physiologically and emotionally different from humans and most importantly, the fact that they’re not human. All excellent statements to make in support of positive interspecies relationships and how to honor and respect the differences between us and them – because in any study there is automatically an “us” and a “them.” Those being studied by those who are studying those being studied – just to be clear. Except that how this project was conducted – by merely looking at photos of dogs – and how it was received by the general public based on the NPR host’s reaction – incredulity and a faint wash of the now ungrateful response of dogs not to like our hugs – indicated a complete failure to actually honor and respect the very animals that were so egregiously generalized in the study. Moreover, the starting point of the research appears to be the fact that the main investigator’s dog doesn’t like hugs which is the unpublicized actual result of the study: it’s an individual thing with all sentient beings whether or not they like to give and receive hugs. I could just as easily publish photos of dogs during canine massage showing the ears back and down, lip licking and other physical signs such as yawning all of which indicate energetic releases during the massage that are positive and happen just before deep relaxation or sleep. It is beginning to be understood in scientific circles that observation alone especially of living beings does not a conclusion make. I’ve heard from several guardians of canine companions who support the idea that it’s an individual preference in the “to hug or not to hug” department. I generally follow the lead of whatever animal species I’m working with because I know they’ll always show me with what behavior and energy of mine they are most comfortable. Don’t believe everything you hear, read or see, gentle readers, when it comes to humans describing what they think they know about other species. We’re usually far off the mark and refuse to do the one thing that would clear everything up for everyone involved that’s normally done in all other human interactions and which wasn’t done in this study – asking the dogs directly to communicate with us about their needs, their wants, their hopes and dreams. Sadly, the ultimate expression of affection the study promoted was: “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.” There are just so many other options than this arms’ length and disconnected approach that serve much better to enrich and strengthen your relationship with a beloved family member. Don’t let science come between you and a soul mate, human or animal. If you’re not sure of what they’d like invite them to show you and always, always, ask and be open to their heart-centered feedback. They’re the smart ones in the room and won’t let you down – ever.