Cats and Dogs
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Where do dogs like to be patted most?

Where do dogs like to be patted most?

It’s a fact. Not all dogs like to be patted. Those that do don’t always like to be patted on the head. Dogs have preferences as to where and how they like to be touched. They also have preferences of who they like to be touched by. Just because they love a chest scratch from their care giver, doesn’t mean they want the same from a stranger. Even in the same household a dog may enjoy a particular interaction from one member of the family, but not from a different member. The good news is that it’s easy to ask a dog if they like the way they are being touched. It simply requires some knowledge about dog communication and body language.

I’ve made a video to demonstrate a simple way to ask your dog how he/she likes to be patted. It’s as simple as starting to pat your dog and then stopping and noting the response.​

Another common theme is that people are sure that their dog likes being hugged. I sometimes ask them to show me — because some dogs don’t mind at all. The majority don’t actually enjoy the interaction. Once the «no» signals have been discussed, it’s amazing how many of these signs are recognized. Before the hug begins, many little dogs are almost chased down and picked up while they are trying to avoid the impending interaction. If you bend down and your little dog moves away, they probably don’t like being picked up much, let alone hugged. Many dogs tolerate our hugs but don’t actually enjoy them. Some dogs don’t mind a hug from their special people, but don’t want the same affection from others.

Here’s a quick summary of how dogs say “yes” or “no”. Sometimes they say “maybe”. I suspect they are conflicted at times because they want our attention but don’t like the type of attention they are getting. It’s the classic walk away and then come back and then walk away routine. I’ve heard many times, «Well if he didn’t like it, why does he keep coming back?» Once we change our approach, a “maybe” can soon become a “yes”. Be aware that all dog body language needs to be observed with consideration of the context within which it occurs, the rest of the dog’s body language (not just one part of the dog) and the individual dog involved. Just like people, different dogs have little idiosyncrasies and styles of communicating.

  • Moving into your space, coming to you for physical contact
  • Nudging a head into your hand or lap
  • Pawing your hand, trying to move it closer
  • Leaning into you
  • Lying down near you, touching you or flopping onto you
  • Face, mouth and eyes are relaxed, even droopy
  • Moving away from you, especially if they don’t return or leave the area — This is so important to take notice of. If a dog does not come to you, do not go to the dog and invade the dog’s space, especially if you do not know the dog. Do not put dogs in situations where they cannot move away or escape from a patting interaction you think is pleasant but they don’t appreciate
  • Leaning away from you.
  • Turning the head away
  • Looking away from you with the eyes
  • Shying away or ducking the head away from your hand
  • Rolling the eyes away to show the whites of the eye (whale eye)
  • Yawning
  • Licking the lips
  • Freezing (a tense stillness as opposed to a relaxed stillness)
  • Growling
  • Snapping
  • Biting
  • Licking your face or hands. This can be asking for space or for you to stop. It is a common appeasement signal. Appeasement behaviours function to reduce or get rid of some part of the interaction which they do not like without using overt aggression. It can also be a sign of affection from a very mouthy, licky dog.
  • Rolling over. If the dog is tense, lips are drawn back and tense, this means «no». It is another appeasement behaviour. If the dog is floppy and the eyes are soft or closed, this means “rub mah belly”. Refer to the pictures below.

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?

Why do dogs like to be petted?

Understand your furry friend

It’s so easy to lavish affection on our precious pups. We can’t resist kissing their cute faces, giving them belly rubs and scratching behind their ears. And they like it too – if we pause for just a second, they paw our hand in protest. It makes you wonder: why do dogs like to be petted?

To get to the bottom of it, we chatted with experts in pet behaviour. Heads up: the answer is even more fascinating than you might think. And if the info below gets the gears of your brain turning, sate your canine curiosity by learning about other dog behaviours, like why your dog stares at you, or gets the zoomies. Could these be signs your dog needs affection? Read up to better understand your furry best friend.


Why do dogs like to be petted?

Why do dogs like to be petted?

In our hearts, we know the answer to “why do dogs like to be petted?” It feels good! But along comes science to confirm it. Research shows that when we interact positively, such as through cuddling and petting, both dogs and humans get a boost of oxytocin, the warm-and-fuzzy hormone.

But there’s another compelling reason dogs love petting. “Dogs are social animals, and the behaviour that we call allogrooming [when animals of the same species groom one another] is quite common in social animals,” says veterinary behaviourist, Dr Valarie Tynes. Just think of the mutually beneficial grooming you see among monkeys at the zoo.

Grooming between humans and dogs, however, tends to be a one-way street. We groom our dogs, of course, but they don’t groom humans much – except when they lick us. When they do that, it’s basically the equivalent of them grooming us, says Dr Tynes. “It’s very likely that this social grooming behaviour evolved along with canine domestication,” she says.

Where are the best spots to pet a dog?

Where are the best spots to pet a dog?

That depends. Dogs are individuals and have personal preferences when it comes to the places they want you to pet them. “My last few dogs liked to be petted on their rump, right above their tail head,” says Dr Tynes. “My current dog prefers her chin and neck to be rubbed/scratched.”

Typically, the sweet spots are those they can’t reach on their own or areas where they won’t feel vulnerable. “One of the most important things to keep in mind when petting dogs is to let the dog tell you what it likes by paying attention to its behaviour.” Try under the chin or on the rump, shoulders or chest. What about the coveted belly rub? Some dogs really dig this and find it delightfully ticklish, hence the scratch reflex or, less technically speaking, the cute puppy kicks that ensue. Other pups give it a hard pass.

Aside from making your pup feel good, petting can have a calming effect on stressed-out or anxious dogs (thanks, oxytocin). Give your four-legged friend a generous petting when stressful times arise, like before you leave the house or go to the vet. It just might help you relax too.

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