Does Your Dog Really Want To Be Petted?

enrichment fearful dogs reactive dogs Jan 09, 2023

Most of us assume that dogs like petting.  But how do we know? 

Dogs are individuals just like people are. Some love cuddling, and some don’t.  And even the cuddliest dogs don’t want to be touched all the time. 


Here are some clues to pay attention to BEFORE you pet your dog:

  • Your dog is asleep. Although some dogs don't seem to mind being petted when asleep, the safest option here is to "let sleeping dogs lie."  Some dogs even behave aggressively if woken up by being touched; 
  • Your dog ducks their head, or looks or moves away when you approach or reach for them.  These behaviors in this context could indicate that your dog isn't in the mood for petting right now; 
  • Your dog opts not to approach you. This is a big one. It’s common for many of us to walk up to dogs, even unfamiliar dogs, and reach out to pet them. This is a risky habit. If a dog has not approached you on his own, assume that was a deliberate choice and respect the dog’s personal space. 
  • Your dog leans in your hand. For many dogs, this is a "Please pet me!" behavior. Some dogs also shove their noses under peoples' hands, or paw at them. 

Here is a short video outlining 3 clues to watch for before petting your dog: 


And here are some behaviors to watch for AFTER you start petting your dog:  

  • Turning to look at your hand as you pet the dog, and possibly licking the hand. This can be the polite canine version of “Please stop.”;
  • Puppy biting.  Most puppy biting is chalked up to, well, being a puppy. But if your puppy gets extra squirmy and bitey when you hold or pet him, he could be trying to tell you that he doesn’t like what you're doing;
  • Tense body language like "side eye", ears pinned back, or a tightly closed mouth. If you see any body language indicating discomfort, stop petting your dog. 

Check out this slightly longer video to learn 4 simple steps for asking a dog if they want to be petted. There are many examples showing “yes” and “no thank you” answers from different dogs. 

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