How to Pet a Dog

How to pet a dog may seem obvious, but there are actually important signals and petting techniques that one should know before petting a dog. Although every pet, cat or dog, is different and prefers different types of pats and scratches, there are some overall good and bad ways to pet a dog that everyone should know. If your dog could share this article with you, they probably would.

cute dog put his face on his knees to the man and smiling from the hands scratching her ear
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When to pet

Obviously, the best time to pet a dog is when they are in the mood for pets! Since your dog may not be able to say "give me all the snuggles" verbally, you can usually tell if a dog is on board to be pet when they:

1.) Approach you with ears back and tail wagging in a wide sweeping motion

2.) Sniff and nuzzle you

3.) Have a relaxed, "wiggly" stance and appear happy to see you

If the dog approaches and shows these signs of comfort and trust, you may crouch down to get on their level, offer your hand on your thigh for them to smell, and gently stroke down their back in the direction of their fur for 5 seconds. Then stop and see if they continue these acts of welcome or lean in for more pets. If they are eager for more pets, then you may proceed to petting for a longer period of time.

DO NOT approach or continue to pet a dog if they:

1.) Turn, duck or move away

2.) Stiffen and freeze

3.) Lick their lips nervously or bare their teeth

4.) Growl or show the whites of their eyes

5.) Shake like they are a wet dog (in a way they are trying to "shake" your touch away like they would the feel of water)

All of these cues are the dog's way of saying "I don't like that, leave me alone." So listen.

If you are petting a dog and they show you their tummy, this doesn't necessarily mean they want a tummy rub. This could be them showing you they are being submissive because they are nervous. So don't immediately start scratching and petting their stomach, because they could assume you are attacking their tender tummy. Instead, scratch their sides, and if they appear content with you moving towards their stomach (or their person says it's ok) you may proceed to gently rubbing their chest.

Person caressing dog
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Best ways to pet

1.) Chest

2.) Shoulders

3.) Base of their neck

It's non-threatening and generally safe to pet them there because it is away from their mouth and not a vulnerable area on their body. However, dogs also enjoy a scratch:

1.) Under the chin

2.) At the base of the tail

3.) Under the back of the neck

It is best to pet them in these areas once the dog has shown they are comfortable with you and want to be pet. Stroke in the direction of the hair growth, and if you scratch, do so gently and not vigorously. While you pet them it is best to speak softly and praise them so they can hear and feel that they are in safe hands and with a friend.

owner caressing gently her dog
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How not to pet

In general, it is best to avoid petting dogs on the--

1.) muzzle

2.) legs and paws

3.) tail

4.) Top of the head

Obviously, this changes depending on the dog, but for a dog you do not know it is best to avoid touching these areas until they are familiar with you. Rough petting or stroking in the opposite direction of fur growth can make a dog anxious, or agitated. The same goes for hitting or slapping a dog's side with your hand (even if it's playful), unless you have established this familiarity between you and the dog. And even then, they may not be in the mood.

Dogs don't just love to be pet, it's good for them! It lowers their heart rate and blood pressure (and that goes for people, too). However, petting is only good for them if they are clearly interested, in the mood and being pet correctly. So listen to their body language and give them some nice snuggles now that you know the best way to do it.