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Petting Dogs Correctly: What to Know and How to Make Them Happy

06.01.2024 - Reading time: 5 minutes

Ein Hund und seine Besitzerin kuscheln miteinander.

Petting a dog is fun and strengthens the bond with your four-legged friend. But is it possible to do something wrong in the process? A short excursus on caressing four-legged friends.


Petting dogs makes you happy

Anyone who says you can’t touch happiness, has never petted a dog. It is also well known that petting dogs simply does us good. It reduces stress and can even lower blood pressure. Among other things, the cuddle hormone oxytocin is responsible for this feeling of well-being. Oxytocin is released between humans and dogs when they touch or make physical eye contact. But can you also make mistakes when petting a dog?

Petting dogs as communication

While every dog has its own preferences when it comes to petting, there are some parts of the body that almost all pets like: most dogs like to be touched on the chest (especially if the dog is sitting next to you), on the side of the body and along the muzzle. However, many of our four-legged friends are sensitive to being touched on the tail and paws, especially if they are not used to being touched there. Not every dog likes hugs either.

Awareness of the situation in which it is best to pet a dog is almost more important than where to pet it. For example, dogs do not want to be touched when they come into a new environment and are concentrating on getting everything in order or when they meet another dog, are engrossed in playing or sniffing.

Eine Besitzerin streichelt ihren Hund.

They will then turn their head to the side or walk away. You should also never disturb them when they are eating. Petting is an important means of communication between humans and dogs. Pet your dog often, but not mindlessly, but consciously. The well-known dog researcher and specialist vet Dorit Urd Feddersen-Petersen states in her book „Expressive Behaviour in Dogs“ that in addition to relaxed petting, „grooming“ (grooming of the coat), physical contact when resting as well as „touching during walks, occasional touching of the dog, which in turn touches the human leg or leans against it as if by chance, strengthens bonds and instils social security in the dog“.

Petting - a basic need of a dog

Already in puppyhood, they seek close physical contact with their littermates and are accustomed to being touched by their mother. Physical closeness is an important ritual for wolves in a pack as well as for dogs that are close to each other in order to ensure the stability of the social structure. This includes social grooming as well as what Feddersen-Petersen calls „muzzle caresses“. Humans can imitate this quite easily, for example by brushing the dog’s coat or by using their hand to perform these „muzzle caresses“ and, for example, by stroking the side of the muzzle of a dog that is walking casually and without interaction by them. There are no rigid petting rules. It is very important for every dog owner to observe his four-legged friend and be familiar with its body language: if the animal turns its head to the side, ducks or walks away, it does not want to be touched. And this is something that must be respected in all cases.

Ein Hund und sein Besitzer liegen auf dem Bett

Petting is not just good for the well-being of people and dogs, but can also be used well in dog training: for example, as a confirmation when the dog comes running after being called. On the other hand, if the dog is excited, barks at someone or jumps up at you in an unwanted manner, you should never pet it.

Listening to the dog when petting

While a dog owner may do everything correctly, he or she must nevertheless accept that some dogs are affectionate and others are not so affectionate. This does not necessarily have anything to do with how an animal has grown up, but may simply be due to its innate character. If the dog retreats into its basket, there is no point in trying to prompt it for more petting. On the contrary, such pushiness is more likely to damage the trust between animal and human. You should exercise moderation with dogs that push their owners hard because they want to be petted. It may be caused by jealousy of other pets or people. In any case, the dog is trying to manipulate you and therefore it is important to remain strong and not to give in to the dog’s every request for petting. This is a different matter in fearful situations, such as thunderstorms. If your dog is trembling and pressing against you, embrace him calmly – but don’t pet or console him, just show your presence and authority. Despite all the theory: no one knows your dog as well as you do, so trust your intuition – that way petting is sure to do both of you good.

Massaging your dog's head - the correct way to do it

Head massages have a relaxing effect on many dogs. Choose a quiet environment for this, preferably after play or a walk.


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