Petting a dog has more to it than one might think. There is such a thing as not knowing how to pet a dog and there’s a right way to do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s your dog or someone else’s, it all starts with how you approach it.  Knowing how to properly pet dogs can make a difference between you being the human they love or the human they run away from.

Why do humans pet dogs?

Studies show that petting a dog can trigger the release of oxytocin in humans. This hormone lowers the heart rate, blood pressure and reduces stress levels. Petting also has a calming effect on dogs and helps soothe mild cases of anxiety. However, it will have little impact on more severe cases and can make it worse if the underlying cause of anxiety isn’t addressed. Petting is also a form of bonding between humans and dogs and can be used to encourage positive behaviors if used as a reward. A great way to use petting as a reward is by petting dogs when they’re showing calm behavior. 

But keep in mind that petting may not be an appropriate reward for every situation. The reward needs to match the difficulty of the behavior you want to reinforce. For example, petting can be a good enough reward when you ask your dog to come to you while you’re in your backyard. But, in a place where there are more distractions around, petting may not be enough.


7 rules to follow when learning how to pet a dog

There are 7 rules you should follow if you want to become a dog’s favorite person. You’ll notice that these rules are all about respecting the dog’s personal space, avoiding any problems, and ensuring the dog is comfortable at all times.

It’s all about positive reinforcement. If a dog’s experience with you is negative, it’ll try to avoid you next time you bump into each other. On the other hand, if a dog has a positive experience with you, it’ll start trusting you.

1. Read the dog’s body language before making an approach. Dogs can’t speak so humans need to learn how to read their body language in order to understand what they’re feeling. Avoid approaching dogs that are showing signs of anxiety, fear, or aggression. It’s important to know when it’s alright to approach a dog and to leave it alone, even if it’s your own dog.

2. Ask for permission from the dog’s owner. Not every dog likes to be pet, especially by strangers and the owners will let you know if that’s the case with their dog. A simple “Can I pet your dog?” Is enough and can go a long way.

3. Let the dog approach you even if you have the owner’s permission. If the dog seems interested in interacting with you and approaches you with a wagging tail, go ahead and pet it. However, if the dog stands there, backs off, or turns its head away from you, it’s best if you leave it alone.

4. Be mindful of your own body language. As mentioned earlier, body language is a big part of our communication with dogs. This means that you are also communicating with dogs through your body language. Therefore, when petting dogs, avoid hovering over them as they might perceive this gesture as a threat. When you want to pet larger dogs, stand with your body facing sideways, and when petting smaller dogs, kneel also facing sideways.


5. Avoid direct eye contact, especially with dogs you’re not familiar with. Direct eye contact can make dogs feel uncomfortable and can be interpreted as a sign of aggression. When approaching dogs that you’ve never met before, your eyes should be slightly averted.

6. Never reach over a dog’s head if it’s the first time you’re interacting with them. When reaching over a dog’s head, there’s an instance where they don’t know where your hand is going and this can make them feel uncomfortable. Instead, let them sniff your dog first, and if they look relaxed, start by petting their chest. When petting, avoid quick movements as these can make dogs nervous.

7. Avoid petting for extended periods of time. The ideal is to pet the dog for a few seconds and then pause. This gives them an opportunity to ask for more or to move away if they need a break or aren’t feeling comfortable.

Even the friendliest dog you know can have days where it doesn’t feel like being pet. That’s why it’s important to follow the rules described above in order to guarantee everybody’s safety.

Making sense of it all

These rules aim, not only to ensure the dogs you come across with are comfortable but also to ensure that everyone is safe at all times. Knowing when a dog wants to be pet and when it’s best to leave it alone is key to ensuring safety. The way you pet dogs can have an impact on their emotions. A slow and gentle touch in the direction of the fur is usually the best option, especially with a dog you don’t know. Quick and shallow pats can overly arouse a dog or frighten it.