Girl with Jack Russell petting ears

Petting a dog is super important to enhance the bonding between both of you

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Are you petting your dog correctly?

By Emilie Heyl Content Writer

Updated on the

Petting your dog is a very pleasant activity, it’s even relaxing. We have the feeling to please our dog. But is this actually the case? Let’s find out.

Everytime we see a dog, the first thing we want to do is please him or her and our first instinct will, most of the time, be to pet him. But be aware that, just like us, there are dogs that don’t feel comfortable in contact with humans. 

Do you know why you are petting your dog? Are you sure you are doing it correctly? Are you sure it really makes your pet happy? 

Let's see together why petting dogs can sometimes be unpleasant for your pooch, when is the opportune moment to pet him and especially how to pet him to be sure that it is a pleasant moment for him and enhances the bond between the two of you.

Petting a dog: What is the best way to pet your dog?

Each dog has its own level of sensitivity, and has preferences, just like any human. The head and nape of the neck are usually places dogs will rub against you. Watch your dog when you are petting him, you need to know if your pooch is feeling comfortable or not. You’ll soon figure out which part of his body your dog prefers being petted.

Petting a dog correctly comes with good communication. Does your dog like to be petted? Great, do you know where? Don’t worry your dog will let you know. Conversely, not all dogs appreciate physical contact and won’t appreciate a stroke so much, but you can still find other ways to show your affection, just with the look for example. It’s important to personalise the cuddling and petting rituals with your dog because every dog is different. Dogs receiving affection, no matter how, will live in a positive context.

Your dog trusts you, and will let you access all parts of his body. But this is not necessarily the case with an unknown dog! It is therefore important to know how to introduce yourself to the dog before coming into contact with him. Bend down, to appear less impressive, and extend your hand for a first contact, palm facing the sky. Let him smell you, and when he offers you a part of his body to stroke, you can then start to pet him, very gently!

Choose the right moment

The cuddling session is a special moment between you and your dog. Like any moment of affection, it may be that the attention you are giving to your dog is inappropriate in relation to his needs, or conversely, he does not come to solicit you at the appropriate times. It is therefore a ritual you should develop with your dog. It is also important to teach your dog to be independent, so it is not obligatory to answer all his requests if they become excessive.

The dog generally asks for cuddles and attention, without restraint. Indeed, it is a social animal who historically used to live in packs and therefore had a lot of interactions, all day long. But there are, like humans, dogs that aren’t cuddly and don’t like physical contact, and that is fine. It depends on the dog’s temperament, education, and your lifestyle, which he often draws inspiration from. Don’t force your dog to do something he doesn’t.

Petting can also be used in education, as a reward when the dog accomplishes a command. Petting is essential for the good behavioural development of a dog. It can also constitute a fabulous learning support. Think about it the next time you cuddle with your dog.

Signs a dog is happy being petted

We are lucky to have in front of us an animal that communicates a lot! He does not speak, of course, but he can make us understand his comforts and discomforts through his body language, and if we do not know how to read and decipher his messages, the dog will then move on to the next step (aggression) to get out as quickly as possible of an uncomfortable situation for him. Here are the signs a dog is happy being petted:

  • Nudging his or head into your lap or hand
  • Leaning into you
  • Pawing at your hand in order to get you to pet them more
  • Relaxed posture

How does a dog like to be petted?

The first thing to do before petting a dog is to ask for its permission. Of course, if it’s your dog, you know him and know where he likes to be petted, so it’s a little bit different. But your dog could be busy with something and might not want to cuddle. Your best bet is to ask your dog.

Petting under the neck, at the level of the throat, on the side of the neck, on the belly, and generally on the back and on the tail set are very satisfying places for your dog. They must be given without moderation to strengthen the bonds which unite you with your dog or to gain the confidence of a dog which is foreign to you. Little tip: Always be gentle.

How to pet a puppy?

The way you pet a puppy is very important as human hands are an extension of the bond between the puppy and its mother therefore it must be regulatory and educational. Avoid stroking your puppy lively and energetically, this could irritate the puppy or excite him. Yes, puppies are extremely cute and irresistible, and all you want to do is cuddle them and kiss them, but try to be extra gentle when you stroke them and don’t over do it, they need to learn how to be independent.

How do you pet a dog whose past you don't know?

Some precautions are necessary when meeting a dog you don’t know or if you have an abandoned dog for example. It is necessary to avoid petting your dog from “above” on the head for example, and don’t, at least at the beginning, gently slap or rub harshly the dog: you do not know what experience the dog had with humans. Perhaps he never knew what petting feels like. The human hand can then be felt as a threat and induce aggressive behaviour in the dog, which would be self-defense but would prove to be dangerous.

In this context, the stroke will therefore be gradual, consented, and will serve to tame and decondition the dog if there has been mistreatment. A hand should be used to stroke an animal and not to punish or hurt them. You will straight away see if a dog is scared of your hand. Use a really calming and soothing voice, bend down to the dog’s level and don’t look at him in his eyes. Be extremely patient.

Should you pet a dog on the head?

Petting a dog on its head isn’t great, especially if the dog doesn’t know you. Indeed, the dog could interpret this as an act of domination from its owner. Therefore, be careful if you pet a dog that you don't know in this way. Better to take an indirect and less blunt approach by letting the dog sniff your hand first, without staring it in its eye. If it is pleasant, you can then gently caress the dog on the side of his face by gently touching it first and with more intensive gestures if the dog is receptive.

If it is your dog, then it is a little different and petting a dog on its head isn't so bad. He will accept this kind of petting more because he will be used to it. However, avoid petting your pooch on his head if he is fearful or anxious, it would only strengthen his anxious temperament. For dogs with a strong character, on the other hand, this stroke, accompanied by a positive sentence ("good dog"), will have a strong educational value.

Why should you pet a dog?

In many situations, we tend to pet our dog just to show him our affection. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it is important to realise that petting your dog for “no reason”, and this very regularly, can lead to undesirable behaviours such as hyper-attachment or even mismanagement of frustration.

Indeed, if you get a dog used to always being petted, on the one hand, he will no longer see the strokes as a reward (you will therefore no longer be able to use it in various trainings) and on the other hand, he will end up by considering as “acquired” the contacts which he has with his owner. 

However, a dog who considers contact with his owner as having been acquired is a dog who, subsequently, may experience very badly the fact of not being petted when he asks for it. The dog will then become the initiator of contacts and this will engender behaviours that can alter his good integration within his home, but also within society in general. 

Firstly, stroking your dog should be seen as a reward, a mark of affection followed by a desired behaviour. Of course, it will always be possible to stroke your dog for no particular reason, and it is advisable to do it, giving affection to your dog will always be beneficial. But it will be advisable to have asked, before the stroke, something from your dog in order to enter into a cooperative relationship.

Is there a wrong way to pet a dog?

Trust us, if you were petting a dog wrong, he would let you know. Here are some signals that you should be aware when you are petting a dog and he doesn’t feel comfortable:

  • Moving or leaning away from you
  • Ducking his or her head away from your hand
  • Tail tucking and tense
  • Drawn back lips
  • Growling
  • Snapping
  • Trying to bite

If you observe these signals but continue to pet the dog, you may trigger aggressive behaviour in the dog. So just stop!

Let’s resume, if you want to pet a dog: You ask for permission, you pet him on the side or under its neck and you learn to observe uncomfortable signals.

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