Why do Dogs Like Being Petted?

A brown dog laying in its owner's lap

It's been said that dog is man's best friend, and most dog owners would agree. From laying beside you on the couch when you're sick to greeting you with an enthusiastic tail wag when you come home from work, dogs are always there when you need a little pick-me-up. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable things about having a dog is getting to pet them, and most dogs love this too. Why do dogs like being petted? The simple answer is because it feels good and they pick up on your energy that says that you're happy with them at that moment.

Benefits of Petting a Dog

For humans, petting a dog is a relaxing and comforting experience. Whether you're feeling the silky hair of a pittie pup or sinking your fingers into the deep fur of a malamute, it activates your tactile senses through texture and temperature, and petting your pooch has been shown to lower blood pressure and decrease feelings of stress.

Petting your dog on a regular basis can also make it easier for you to find any skin irritations or cuts that their fur may be hiding. Insects like fleas and ticks can be especially tricky to see through dense fur, but giving your dog a good once over through a massage can ensure you're aware of anything that needs to be taken care of. As you're petting your dog, also be aware of any signs that a certain area is painful or swollen. Dogs don't usually show their pain unless it's extreme, but they may yelp or try to get away quickly if you hit on a sensitive spot.

Why Do Dogs Like Being Petted?

From your dog's perspective, it's less about the touch itself — although those ear scratches and belly rubs are pretty great — and more about the energy you're conveying through that touch. You're more likely to pet your dog when you're giving them praise, trying to convey love or seeking comfort, and they respond to that.

How Do Dogs Like to Be Petted?

Unlike with cats and other small animals like rabbits or guinea pigs, there aren't a lot of wrong ways to pet a dog. Your own family pet may enjoy being petted along the back and sides, having the area under the ears scratched, having the top of their head rubbed or getting a good belly scratch. However, if you're petting a dog that you're not familiar with, it's best to stay away from the belly, paws and head until they get to know you as dogs can be protective over these areas.

Before you pet any dog that you're not familiar with — such as when you see one taking a walk with its owner at the park or go to meet a friend's dog at their house — it's important to approach slowly and ask both the dog and the owner if it's OK.

Many dogs are protective of their owners on leash and don't respond well to meeting new people like that, and you may need to avoid certain areas — such as the ears of a dog who has an ear infection. Coming up to the dog slowly with the back of your hand out shows that you're not a threat and gives them a chance to smell you and give you a sign that they're OK with petting, such as a low wagging tail or a friendly lick.

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