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It seems like a dog's head and a person's hand were meant to go together. But, why do dogs like to be pet so much, and what are the best places to pet a dog? To answer these questions, it's important to understand the signs dogs give before, during, and after petting. Get ready — we are about to explore the science behind dog petting.
Prepping to Be Pet
Have you ever heard the saying, "Let sleeping dogs lie?" Although all dogs like a good hand massage, they should be the ones to initiate the petting. Whether they're a new puppy, your long-time fur kid or a dog you've never met before, you should always look for the mutual agreement that the dog wants you to pet them. If a dog wants to be petted, they will sniff you, and then their ears, tail and other parts of their body will become relaxed. Watch for loose shoulders, a soft gaze and an open mouth. When they start to wiggle a little bit or nuzzle up against you, that's your sign that they're ready for a good round of petting.
You should first pet the dog on the chest, shoulder or base of the neck rather than moving your hand over the top of their head. Make the initial petting slow and a little bit like a light massage. Avoid the base of the tail, under the chin and the back of the neck. Definitely don't grab at the dog's face or pet their ears roughly, since most dogs do not like that type of petting. Once you get to know a dog well, you can try to pet other areas and see what they like. When you're done petting, be sure to use a consistent response like "all done" so that your dog doesn't keep jumping up or try to nuzzle into you and knock you over for more pets.
How Will I Know If He Really Loves Me?
Do dogs like to be petted all the time once they know you? Well, for the most part, dogs do like to use petting as a way to bond with their owner. According to Paws for People, "It's well-known (and scientifically proven) that interaction with a gentle, friendly pet has significant benefits" for both the human and the dog. However, petting should be done in a way that pleases your dog and helps him feel calm, loved and safe. It's important to make time to pet your dog every day and allow others to pet him in a way he likes.
When you get a new puppy, it is important to get to know him and what he likes before you take him to socialize with other dogs and people. This will allow you to recommend the best way for people to approach and pet your dog to reduce his anxiety of strangers. Keep in mind, some dogs make connections with certain people more than others, and although your puppy might like being pet on the belly at home with you, he may not like that when he is out and about with strangers.
Finding "The Spot"
Have you ever petted a dog and noticed his leg moving rapidly? Animal Planet explains the scratch reflex as an involuntary movement. Although it can seem funny to see your dog kicking his leg, it actually activates nerves that go to the spinal cord and may be irritating to him. Some people think rubbing this spot on a dog's belly is what he wants, but in most cases, dogs would prefer to lie next to you and get petted on the chest instead. Very similar to arm or leg spasms in humans, a massage should evoke relaxation and not involuntary, rapid movements.
So, the next time you see a dog, remember to let him initiate the contact, start by petting the chest and shoulder areas, and let him take the lead on how much and how often he wants to be petted.
Chrissie Klinger is a pet parent that enjoys sharing her home with her furkids, two of her own children and her husband. Chrissie enjoys spending time with all her family members when she is not teaching, writing or blogging. She strives to write articles that help pet owners live a more active and meaningful life with their pets.