Knowing how to pet a dog can mean the difference between being his favorite human or being the human he avoids at all costs. The wrong method could have your pooch running for the hills, but the right strategy can make him putty in your hands.
Whether you’re old friends or have just met, we’ve put together a few do’s and don’ts below on how to properly pet your dog.
DO Let the Dog Initiate Contact
Instead of reaching out to the dog and touching him, allow him to make first contact. Don't hover over him, as this can be perceived as threatening — instead, turn your body slightly to the side and kneel or squat down next to him, allowing him to approach you first.
DO Be Aware of the Dog's Body Language
A dog who is ready to be petted should appear relaxed and/or eager to engage. He may have slightly turned-back ears, and his tail will be at medium height, wagging in wide sweeps. If he appears leery or jumpy, avoid petting him.
DO Proceed Slowly
Slow and relaxed petting, much like a gentle massage, will be calming and soothing to a dog. Pet him in the direction in which his fur lies. If he enjoys it, he will likely lean into you or actively seek more contact if you stop petting him.
DO Know the Best Spots to Pet
Most dogs are comfortable being petted on the chest or shoulders, under the chin, or at the base of the neck where the collar sits. Avoid petting on the top of the head or on the muzzle, paws or tail, as some dogs dislike being touched in these areas. Reach in from the side rather than moving your hand directly over the dog's head.
DON'T Be Overly Affectionate
Avoid hugging the dog, as this prevents him from moving and can seem threatening. Teach children never to hug dogs, even if they spend time with a dog who tolerates them. Kissing a dog or putting your face close to his is also not a good idea, as this could lead to a bite.
DON'T Pet a Dog Who Is Chained Up or Behind a Barrier
Never try to pet a dog who is chained up, in a car or behind a fence. Feeling trapped may lead the dog to bite as a means of self-protection. Always ask permission before petting a dog on a leash.
Vetstreet.com delivers advice from veterinarians, trainers and pet experts who are dedicated to giving you the most trusted, authoritative information for keeping pets healthy and happy. Our Find A Vet service connects you with leading veterinarians in your area. Launched in 2011, Vetstreet.com features veterinarian-reviewed medical advice and has quickly become one of the top animal health and lifestyle sites on the web. See more.