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Why Do Dogs Like Being Petted?

Different pooches have different petting styles. Some are selective while others want all the petting that is on offer. Whichever camp your dog falls in, petting is a great way of establishing a strong and trusting bond between the two of you.

pet your dog

Nothing provides undemanding companionship quite like a dog and petting a canine pal is a great antidote to the stresses of daily life. This petting is actually a two-way street with benefits for both of you. While petting generally makes a dog feel safe, secure and loved, pooches do have different petting styles. Some are selective while others want all the petting that is on offer. Whichever camp your dog falls in, petting is a great way of establishing a strong and trusting bond between the two of you.

Petting as a bonding and training tool

It’s never too soon to start petting your dog. Tangible rewards such as verbal praise and edible treats are useful when bonding with a new pet or training a puppy, but petting is also an invaluable way of encouraging desired behaviors. A behavioral study co-authored by Dr. Clive Wynne of Arizona State University showed that both pet and rescue dogs responded better to petting than vocal praise. When used as a training tool for puppies, the trick is not to overstimulate or overexcite them with petting sessions that are too long. You’ll know when you’ve crossed this boundary as your puppy will become hyperactive and may even try out their s sharp puppy teeth on you!

Is your dog making relaxed eye contact with you? Is their tail wagging slowly back and forth? If so, they’re probably in the mood for a spot of stroking.

How dogs communicate their desire to be petted

Is your dog making relaxed eye contact with you? Is their tail wagging slowly back and forth? If so, they’re probably in the mood for a spot of stroking. They might even be wriggling with excitement at the thought of some tactile interaction. Should you have the temerity to stop petting a dog before they had enough, they will lean towards you and actively seek out and nudge your hand. They will make it quite clear, that as far as they’re concerned, the petting can and should continue!

Finding that petting sweet spot

Like their owners, dogs are individuals when it comes to no-go ticklish areas or that sweet spot where a gentle massage does the job. Generally, dogs prefer not to be touched on their whiskers, around their eyes, or on their paw pads. They do appreciate, however, a hand running along their spine in even strokes. Other favorite spots are under the chin, behind or below the ears, and on the nose. “Gentle” is the keyword. Most dogs prefer a soft touch that just ruffles their hair rather than a deep massage. Belly rubs are often welcome, but always make sure you’re reading the signals correctly. When dogs expose their belly by dropping and rolling, it can be a sign of submission or fear and if you touch their stomach then, they may growl or even snap at you. As you get to know your pet better, you’ll pick up the subtle (or not so subtle) signs that they’re actually asking for a belly rub. You’ll know you’re getting this right when they sigh with pleasure and close their eyes.

Is my dog enjoying the petting session?

Every dog has their own character and as you build up a relationship with yours, you’ll begin to understand their body language and the signals of enjoyment they give you. A dog that’s enjoying a petting session will nudge your hand with their head or paw, encouraging you to continue. Other signs of enjoyment include leaning into you, a tail that’s wagging slowly from left to right, a mouth that’s relaxed and slightly open, and slow regular breathing.

Golden Retrievers can’t get enough of your touch and love having their bellies rubbed, whereas Terriers are a more independent breed who can perfectly manage without your touch.

Calming nervous dogs with gentle petting sessions

If your dog is nervous or stressed for any reason such as introducing a new pet into your household, petting is a great way of soothing them. Get down to their level and approach in a quiet non-threatening way from the dog’s side rather than from over the top of their head. Start by gently touching or rubbing their chest, the base of their tail, their shoulder, or between their ears. Avoid touching the ears, muzzle, belly, legs, paws, or the end of the tail as this can further increase a dog’s agitation. Start with a slow pat or light scratch before making gentle stroking movements that follow the direction of their fur. Your dog will start to feel and appear noticeably calmer and realize that petting is something to be enjoyed.

To pet or not to pet? It’s all down to breeding

While all dogs in a safe, secure, and loving home can be encouraged to enjoy petting sessions, some breeds show a greater preference for it than others. For example, Golden Retrievers can’t get enough of your touch and love having their bellies rubbed whereas Terriers are a more independent breed. Very often, they prefer to just lie quietly beside you, accepting the occasional pat on their head. According to The Dog People, other breeds that really appreciate a petting session are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (they want everyone in their orbit to pet them!), Boxers, Chihuahuas, and Great Danes. Despite their size, Great Danes consider themselves to be lap dogs!

What if my dog really doesn’t like being petted?

Some humans have a more defined sense of personal space than others, and this is the same with dogs. If your dog really doesn’t enjoy being petted, then respect this and find other ways to interact with them. This might include frequent walks, long chats, playing, or simply letting them sit quietly near you without physical contact. If having a dog that doesn’t enjoy petting is not what you expected when you welcomed it into your home, don’t despair. With a little patience and some positive dog training (either at home or in a class), most dogs can learn to enjoy some form of petting.

pet a dog

Safe petting – making new friends

The first rule of safe petting is never to assume that a dog wants to be touched, particularly if it’s one you haven’t met before. This is a rule that must be enforced with children. It’s only polite to ask an owner’s permission before touching a strange dog. Generally, if a dog is happy to be petted, they will initiate contact. Towering over a dog can be perceived as threatening, so make them feel more at ease with you by getting down to their level. Turn your body sideways to them and keep eye contact to a minimum. This reinforces the fact that you are a friend, not a foe. As the dog approaches you, extend a hand slowly towards their chest so that it can sniff it. If the dog gives your hand or body a little nudge, this is a sure indicator that they’re ready for some loving attention from you.

Follow our petting guide and not only will your dog reap the benefits, but you will as well. Stroking a furry companion also releases your joy hormones (endorphins) leading to a noticeable decrease in your stress levels. A win-win, isn’t it?


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