How to Pet a Dog

Petting Don’ts

Certain types of petting are uncomfortable for most dogs. Patting, a common way many small children pet dogs, is generally disliked. Slapping a dog’s side in excitement can be agitating or frightening to some canines. Vigorous, fast or hard petting is also more likely to overstimulate a dog.


When a dog rolls over on his back, it is often seen as an invitation to rub his belly. In fact, it is just the opposite: In canine greeting situations, submissive or fearful dogs may roll over as an appeasement gesture to placate a threatening dog. As a general rule, it’s best to avoid petting a dog who is lying on his back in a greeting situation.

Hugs can also be threatening to a dog because they hinder his ability to move away. Children — even those who spend time with a pet who tolerates hugs — should be taught never to hug a dog; this type of interaction makes most dogs anxious and can result in injury to the child. Kissing a dog is also not a good idea; remind children to keep their faces away from the dog’s face, again in order to avoid a bite. Children should be taught to always handle even the calmest dogs in a gentle, nonthreatening manner. And, of course, children and dogs should only interact with adult supervision.


Never attempt to pet a dog who is chained up or is behind a barrier, such as a fence (even an invisible fence), or inside a car. When a dog is trapped in a specific area, he is more likely to bite as a method of self-protection. And always be sure to ask before you pet a dog on a leash — it keeps you safe and is good manners, too.

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