Dog lovers enjoy petting dogs, and most dogs enjoy just as much or even more. Some dogs like gentle pets while others prefer more pressure. Many dogs enjoy being scratched as well. In general, there are certain areas where dogs like to be pet and other areas to avoid. A dog's personal preference depends on the dog's personality, history, and relationship with you.
Why Dogs Like To Be Pet
Most dogs enjoy petting from people for several reasons. As dogs evolved from wolves, they learned about human communication. One way humans communicate is through touch, and dogs have learned not only to tolerate this; they often enjoy it. Dogs form close bonds with humans. They bond with us emotionally, physically, and chemically. This chemical bond occurs due to oxytocin, also called the love hormone, which increases in humans and dogs through affectionate interaction.
Perhaps the simplest reason why dogs like to be pet is that it feels good. Imagine how it may feel to have your hair gently stroked by someone you trust. Not all people would like this, but others love it. Similarly, not all dogs enjoy petting. Possible reasons for this include lack of human socialization, fear, history of abuse, pain, or simply personal preference. Some dogs enjoy being pet on certain areas of their bodies and dislike being touched in other areas. Additionally, some dogs enjoy being pet by trusted humans but not by strangers.
Always ask the dog owners if you can approach and pet their dog. Stop petting the dog immediately if you think the dog seems uncomfortable.
How to Pet a Dog
There are several places where most dogs enjoy petting. If you do not know the dog well, it's best to start slowly so you can assess the dog's reaction.
- Ask the owner if it's okay to pet the dog. Not all dogs are friendly and may become fearful or aggressive. Some dogs have areas that are sensitive or painful and should be avoided. Other dogs are fearful of strangers.
- Avoid direct eye contact with the dog as this may be perceived as a threat.
- Give the dog a chance to approach you first.
- If you do approach the dog, do so slowly from the side. Coming at the dog quickly or directly may feel threatening or intimidating to the dog.
- Do not move your hands towards the dog's face or over the top of the head. This may make the dog fearful or defensive.
- Begin to gently pet the dog in areas like the front of the chest, the upper and middle back, sides of the chest, and behind the ears.
- Stop petting the dog if you notice resistance. Watch their body language for signs of fear or aggression. If you notice apprehension from the dog, slowly walk sideways away from her and avoid eye contact.
Some dogs enjoy petting in other areas, especially once they begin to trust you. If the dog is enjoying being pet, they may offer you another area to pet. They may lean their back or rump on you, push their head under your hand, or roll over to expose their belly. Note that exposing the abdomen is not always a request for belly rubs; it may be an invitation to play or an act of submission.
Continue to move slowly and pet the dog gently to see how they respond. If the dog still seems to be enjoying themselves, gradually pet them with more pressure but without roughness. Try scratching them lightly to see if they enjoy that as well. Some dogs love a good scratch, especially if you have long fingernails.
Many dogs enjoy petting from trusted people in the following areas:
- Lower back near the base of the tail
- Belly and underside of the chest
- Top of the head and neck
- Under the chin
- On the front of the neck
- On the sides of the thighs
Areas to Avoid
No two dogs are exactly alike, so you may be surprised at the places a dog likes to be pet. However, there are certain areas to avoid. The genitals and anus are obvious areas to stay away from; dogs are protective of these areas just like humans.
In general, other areas to avoid petting include the face, tail, feet, and legs. Hugging a dog should also be avoided unless you are certain the dog likes it. Many dogs dislike hugging and merely tolerate it. Of course, you may find that your own dog enjoys hugs or petting in one or more of these areas. Just remember not to do it to someone else's dog.