petting a dog

Do Dogs Enjoy Being Petted?

Dog people love to pet dogs.

When your dog comes up to you with that look of adoration in her eyes, and that thick, soft, silky fur; well, how can you resist? Tests have been conducted which indicate there are health benefits to petting a dog. Blood pressure decreases and levels of feel-good hormones actually increase when a person pets a dog. So it's actually healthy for people to pet dogs. And dogs love it, too, don't they? Not always. One of the things people love about dogs is their individuality. You can have two dogs from the same litter, and they won't be exactly the same. One may love to play; the other may be more of a couch potato. One may investigate strange noises or smells; the other may hide in fear. Their individual personality is one of the things that so endears your dogs to you. But not every dog likes to be petted. Just like there are people who don't enjoy being touched, not all dogs enjoy being touched. And even dogs that do enjoy being touched may not want to be touched by people they don't know.
petting a dog ©istockphoto/RapidEye

Why don't all dogs want to be touched?

Is there a specific, universal reason a dog doesn't enjoy being touched? No, not really—it depends on the dog. Some small dogs don't like being touched because they're so often picked up without warning. How would you like to be contentedly lying on your bed, lost in thought, when some giant comes along and swoops you up? Some dogs may have been abused in the past and may fear that you will strike them. Many of these dogs will overcome this fear if they live with people who love them, respect them, and don't mistreat them. But some dogs just don't show their affection that way. Your dog may follow you from room to room and be at your feet when you sitting, but she just doesn't like to be touched. It doesn't mean she doesn't love you; she just prefers to show her love—and prefers you to show your love for her—in other ways.

How can I tell if my dog likes to be petted?

The best way to tell if your dog enjoys being petted is if she asks to be petted. If she uses her nose or paw to get you to raise your hand to pet her, she obviously enjoys it. If she relaxes her face, and even her body, you know she's into it. Her eyes may droop. She may fall onto you.

Signs my dog doesn't like to be petted.

Just as a dog that likes to be petted will tell you she likes it, one that doesn't want to be touched will let you know that as well. Some surefire signs that a dog is more of a touch-me-not including ducking her head or backing up when you try to pet her. She'll look away or may even leave the room. She may yawn or scratch. She's trying to tell you, in dog language, "You're a nice enough person, I just don't want you to touch me." When you meet a new dog, whether it's a dog you've just adopted or someone else's dog, pay close attention to her body language. Stoop down a little and offer your hand. Don't look her straight in the eye: that can be a sign of aggression in the doggy world. Let her come to you. You love your dog in spite of her idiosyncrasies—perhaps even because of them. Let her tell you how much physical contact she wants. She'll love you all the more if you respect her wishes.
petting a dog ©istockphoto/Aleksandr Zotov

Pam Hair

Pam Hair is a pet industry copywriter with Fuzzy Friends Writer, where she combines her three passions: a love of animals, a strong desire to help other people, and the joy of writing. She has been a pet parent over the years to dogs, cats, and a variety of rodents. Currently she and her husband share their home with two guinea pigs.
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