Should You Pet That Dog?

Where and how should you pet a dog for the best results?


Humans who love dogs typically love physical contact with dogs – petting, scratching, and cuddling. Recent studies even tout the health benefits of our canine-human interactions. But be aware that not all of our dogs love it as much as we do. Fortunately, there are ways to increase most dogs’ enjoyment of petting.

Where to Pet a Dog

Where should you pet a dog? That’s easy – where she likes it! But how do you know? Some dogs will tell you by backing up to invite a butt-scratch or nudging a nose under your hand for a head-rub. Others aren’t so obvious, in which case you can do “consent testing” to see what might be appreciated. Scratch the dog behind his ear, and then stop. Massage his shoulders briefly, and stop. If the dog stays close or even leans into you, he’s asking for more. If he moves away, he’s saying you didn’t hit the spot. Take a brief break, then invite him back and try a different petting location. (See: )

How To Pet a Dog

Ideally, petting is relaxing for both canine and human. Slow petting with gentle pressure is the best way to accomplish relaxation. Deeper massage can also be good, or soft scratching behind ears, on the chest, or on the hindquarters. Your dog will tell you. If she rests her head on your lap, closes her eyes, and shows other signs of peaceful enjoyment, you’re doing it! If you want to pet a dog you don’t know, ask the owner, and/or let the dog approach you for contact rather than invading his space.

How NOT to pet a dog – and why you should not pat them on the head

I cringe when I see someone vigorously patting a dog on the head or thumping their sides. Newsflash: Most dogs do not like to be patted on the head!! Think about it. How would you like it if someone came up to you and started bonking the top of your skull? A few dogs might actually like it, some dogs will tolerate it, and others will flat out bite you if you reach to pat their heads. And thumping is anything but relaxing. So just don’t.

Most dogs do enjoy some form of physical contact with humans. Let your dog tell you what she likes. Then do it.

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Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.