When you run into a random, sweet but unknown dog in the park, one of your very first instincts is probably to go right over and pet it, because you know, just like your own dog, canines are usually always looking to be caressed. And, you would not be wrong.
Dogs love attention, pretty much any attention, but especially being petted for some reason. What’s up with that? Does it feel good to be petted? Are there some doggy benefits that we don’t know about? Why do dogs like being petted all the time?
Dogs enjoy being petted because they are highly social animals. Petting imitates grooming and they also love the attention. In addition, it feels soothing and makes them feel loved, which promotes bonding and trust.
Dogs are known for being quite intelligent, however, they have not mastered the art of actually speaking (at least not yet), to be able to communicate whatever message it is that they are trying to convey. Instead, they use and read body language as well as social cues.
A dog’s reason for enjoying a good stroking session can vary wildly depending on the situation but it is always, at least at the base of the action, a form of communication.
Now that we know that petting is a way for your dog to communicate, we can delve deeper into the more detailed doggy explanations of why he enjoys being petted so much.
Why Dogs Like Being Petted
12. It’s A Scent Thing
Scent is a major thing in the animal world. An animal’s sense of smell is much more powerful than our own, especially with regards to canines. They use scent to recognize their pack members, in addition to using it to sniff out any imposters. When you pet your pooch, two things happen. One, you are leaving your scent behind on him, and two, his scent is being transferred to you. Think of it like marking each other’s territory.
11. It Reminds Them Of Being Groomed By Their (canine) Mom
Most of us have a very special place in our hearts for our beloved moms and when thinking of them, it makes us feel loved and protected. Dogs are no exception to this rule. The act of petting mimics grooming and as his adoptive human mom, the petting becomes a maternal experience for them. Everyone needs their mom, right?
10. He Likes The Attention
With dogs, many times any attention is good attention and being petted is no exception. They love to feel as though they are the center of their humans’ universe and even this fleeting action can reaffirm those feelings of being wanted and of affection.
9. Combating Depression And/Or Insecurities
Yes, canines can suffer from feelings of depression or insecurity. They might not be able to voice their sadness but they can feel down just as much as we are able to. Being stroked by their favorite human can help to ease some of the depressive symptoms.
8. The Green-Eyed Monster Is Visiting
Dogs are really quite skilled at the art of jealousy. They do not enjoy sharing your love and affection. If you are petting him, and not the object of his envy, then he has ‘won’ your attention. If this is the primary reason, you shouldn’t encourage the behavior as it could eventually lead to aggression.
7. It Is A Natural ‘Pack’ Activity
Grooming each other is an instinctive behavior practiced within the pack. As stated earlier, petting can mimic the grooming motions, and therefore, enjoyment of this action becomes something that comes naturally to him. This a way for members to bond and form a connection to one another, and you are now one of those members.
6. Release Of ‘The Cuddle Hormone’
When you are petting your dog, both of your brains release a chemical called oxytocin. This is known as the cuddle hormone and is comparative to the feelings between mother and her child. During the act of petting, oxytocin release is not the only thing to be triggered, as rushes of endorphins and dopamine soon follow, resulting in an almost euphoria.
5. He Finds It Calming Or Soothing
Petting tends to have a calming effect on dogs (in the right situation of course). You petting Fido can help to soothe him, especially if he is anxious or fearful. The physical contact helps to alleviate stress for not only him, but some studies show that it can also do the same for you. There are many organizations that bring dogs to visit ill people in the hospital for this very reason.
4. It Feels Good Physically
The act of stroking your hands across your dog’s body or head can almost feel like a mini massage to him. Dogs have many nerve endings just like their human counterparts and being petted simply feels good to them. This is likely why, once you start, they don’t want you to stop.
3. It Is Great For Bonding
Cuddling and petting your dog tends to encourage bonding. In addition to all of the other benefits it provides, it could actually bring the two of you even closer together. Remember that oxytocin that your brain releases? The cuddle hormone? Yea that will help to solidify the bonding experience making it stronger than ever.
2. It Signals Your Approval
More than anything in the world, your dog just wants to please you. This is one of his main purposes in life and by petting and caressing him, you are letting him know that he is a ‘good boy’. He is always seeking your approval and this show of affection affirms it.
1. It Makes Him Feel All Warm And Fuzzy On The Inside
And the real reason that precious pup enjoys being petted is that it makes him feel all warm and fuzzy inside. He feels loved and cared for. Getting petted also makes him ultimately feel safe and protected.
Should You Pet A Dog?
So long as you do it correctly (and get the owners okay beforehand, if it is not your own pooch), petting is a great experience for both of you. As you’ll see below, there is an appropriate, and safe way to approach and pet a dog.
How To Correctly Pet A Dog
Reading this header is likely to give you a giggle, but there truly is a right way, and a wrong way, to pet a dog. Not to mention the many other factors that will play a role in the situation. Petting a random dog at the park should be approached differently than how you would pet your own pooch.
Where To Pet
You should always do it in the kitchen…kidding. Knowing exactly where on the body of the dog to pet can be tricky unless you are familiar with the animal. Some dogs are more comfortable with belly rubs than others for example. Until you get to know the pup and learn what he is comfortable with, petting him on the head is probably going to be your safest bet.
The Do’s and Don’ts When it Comes to Petting Dogs (especially ones that do not know you)
- Do pay attention to the dogs’ body language, there are usually more than a few red flags before an attack, whether it be out of fear or aggression.
- Do always approach the animal from the front. Never, ever, approach an animal from behind, this is particularly more important with regards to unfamiliar animals. If the dog gets spooked then he may bite instinctually.
- Do allow the dog to acquaint himself with you first if need be: Some dogs would rather ‘inspect’ you before allowing the petting. Stand still but not rigid and stay calm. He is simply determining whether or not you are a threat.
- Don’t be nervous or fearful. The old wives’ tale is true, the majority of animals are perfectly capable of sensing panic and/or anxiousness.
- Don’t approach him too fast or with jerky, unstable movements: The goal here is to make Fido feel comfortable enough to allow you to have contact with him. Moving too quickly can cause the dog to become nervous and/or fearful.
- Don’t come at the dog from behind: If you are approaching an animal (any animal) you should always approach from the front, in full view. Never from behind. Coming up behind him can cause him to get spooked and nip out of fear.
When Is It NOT Okay To Pet A Dog?
It could never be frowned upon, right? Dogs were practically made to be cuddled! While this rings true for most canine companions there are certain situations where it is not okay to approach or to pet a dog. These can include:
- Service dogs
- Emotional support dogs
- Seeing-eye dogs
These particular animals are disciplined, highly trained, and must never be distracted from their job at hand (paw?). Doing so can set back months and months of previous intensive (and sometimes lifesaving) training. No matter how cute the dog is or how tempted you might be, it is not a good idea. This is one of the reasons why it is imperative to get permission before you touch anyone else’s pet.
Does My Dog Like To Be Petted? Look For The Signs
That he likes it:
When a dog is feeling relaxed and comfortable, he will:
- Have a noticeable carefree demeanor
- Have a relatively relaxed stance, tail up and not stiff, etc
- Will likely take steps toward you first
That he does not like being petted:
The signs of a nervous dog are actually fairly apparent:
- Having his head down
- His tail is tucked between his legs
- His ears are back and flattened against his head
- Lips curled back with teeth bared
- He is openly growling
- Hair standing up along the spine
Petting is a useful communicative tool for dogs. It can tell them that you, their human, are content and happy with them as well as saying to you, that they feel comfortable enough to allow you to do so. Why do we, as people (well, most anyway) like to be hugged? It is a way to show love and to feel cared about. While there are many reasons that your pooch might be looking to be petted, in the long run, it is really just about feeling wanted.