Does Your Fearful Dog Want To Be Petted?

fearful dogs Apr 02, 2024

One of the hardest things about living with a very fearful dog? Not being able to shower them with affection the way you'd like.  Many of the fearful dogs I work with are not comfortable with much or any petting, even from their family. As much as their guardians would like to comfort their fearful dog by cuddling them, trying to touch them just scares them more. 

If you've worked unsuccessfully with your fearful dog to try to get them more comfortable with petting, or if you have a dog who sometimes seems to want to be petted, but at other times growls or snaps when you touch them, then the video below is for you. For these dogs, you need to be extra conservative about touching them.

Here are the general guidelines I use for deciding when to pet these very sensitive dogs: 

  • Don't approach the dog to pet them.  If your dog hasn't approached you, assume they don't want to be touched right now. 
  • If your dog does approach, don't reach toward them.  Instead, make your hand available by for instance resting it on the floor or your knee, and see if your dog chooses to interact with your hand. If they don't, then don't pet them. 
  • Pause petting every 2-3 strokes and remove your hand. If your dog did approach you and chose to interact with your hand, try just a couple of pets, then stop petting and move your hand away a little. These little pauses give your dog lots of opportunities to "opt out" of petting, and give you a chance to observe what your dog is telling you. If your dog re-engages with your hand after a pause, try a few more pets. If your dog doesn't try to move closer to or touch your hand, or if they move away, no more petting for now.  

Here's a video where I go over these steps with video examples: 

 At the bottom of this blog you'll find the original "Petting Consent Test" video I made. That one is a bit longer, with more examples, and not limited to fearful dogs. 

I hope these tips help you make progress with your touch-sensitive dog! Shoot me an email at [email protected] if you have any questions about the material here.