One of the reasons dogs make such good family pets is that they love and appreciate all the time we spend with them.
Pet dogs always love hanging out with their owners, which is a big part of why we love them.
However, as dog owners, we don’t always take the time to develop a deep understanding of how the human-dog relationship works.
While it’s evident that most dogs enjoy humans petting them, what do they think of it?
So What Do Dogs Think When We Pet Them?
Dogs don’t think the same way humans do, their brains are different, and they don’t have verbal language. However, most dogs perceive petting as a form of affection that they find enjoyable. Some dogs don’t like being petted, and some only under certain conditions.
This article explores the chemistry and science behind petting. What happens inside their brains when you pet your dog?
We will also look at essential ways to help determine if your dog likes petting and why it’s vital to understand this.
Also, how to train them to like it if they don’t, and much more, so let’s get started.
Dogs View Petting as a Form of Affection
As dog lovers, we often stroke our dogs because it naturally feels good. It feels good because our body’s system releases “feel-good” hormones: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and, most importantly, oxytocin (the bonding hormone) as we pet them.
Studies have shown that human cortisol levels, the “stress hormone,” drops significantly, as well as blood pressure and heart rate. So petting dogs is provably good for us.
Interestingly, other findings depict that dogs also enjoy the same benefits of petting as humans.
That’s because, like humans, dogs are social animals. They connect through the sense of touch. So, therefore, when you pet dogs, you communicate love and affection, and they think you’re bonding with them.
However, it is essential to remember that not all dogs like being touched, and some may not want to be stroked in a specific way or part of their body.
This may be due to past trauma, pain, or stress, or it may just be down to the personal preference of the particular dog.
So, how would you know if they like and want to be stroked or not?
Perform a Consent Test To Determine if Petting a Dog Is Okay
Before petting a dog that you don’t know very well, it’s best to perform a “consent test.”
First, try gently stroking them for a few seconds, then stop the stroking and watch if the dog re-initiates it.
Dogs that want to be petted will bring themselves closer to you and use non-verbal body language cues to let you know they want you to continue.
They may sniff you, put their body under your hand or touch your hand with their paw. Then, finally, their facial muscles, ears, and tails will relax, and their eyes will droop.
A dog that doesn’t like being petted will probably leave the area or move away from your vicinity. Or they may not go away but show discomfort signs like yawning, lip licking, growling, whale eyes, etc.
In such cases, you may not be touching their favorite spots. It would then be best that you try finding a spot they’ll love being petted. And if they still show discomfort, let them be.
Here’s a really helpful video demonstrating a consent test. Just click to play:
You Can Train Your Dog To Like Being Petted
As mentioned earlier, some dogs are uncomfortable when touched for various reasons.
It is, however, essential that you teach them to tolerate touching, if not love. Doing so will make things like vet visits and interactions with children and new people less stressful for them.
Puppyhood is the best time to teach your dog that it’s okay to be carried, petted, or cuddled.
Fortunately, you can still introduce petting to your dog even, even if they are much older. However, you’ll need to move cautiously so your dog doesn’t get upset, scared, or angry.
1. Introduce Petting to Your Dog Slowly
The best time to introduce petting to a dog that doesn’t like it is when your dog is relaxed and in a safe environment.
Approach them from the side, not the top; otherwise, they’ll feel vulnerable. It’s essential that your dog feels calm and safe.
You can also consider calling your dog to you instead of moving toward them.
Then start by touching the spots where your dog feels comfortable being touched, and move to other areas you aren’t sure about.
Doing this will help the dog relax even more and let you continue touching them.
For instance, if they don’t want their ears rubbed, you can start from the back and move gently towards the ears.
Dogs generally enjoy being stroked on the front of the neck, chest, belly and lower back. However, refrain from touching their head as some dogs don’t like it.
Stroke them slowly with medium pressure and in the direction of their fur. Let your dog lead you for as long as they enjoy the sensations and cease immediately they start showing nervousness.
Keep repeating this over time until your pooch gets used to it and hopefully even starts to enjoy it.
2. Teach Your Dog To Associate Petting With Rewards
Many dogs also recognize petting as a manner of rewarding a behavior.
Therefore, it’s crucial that you pet them only when appropriate: when they perform the desired behavior. This way, they’ll learn to differentiate good behavior from bad.
Don’t pet them when they misbehave. This will only reinforce the undesired behavior.
STOP – Before you read anymore. You might enjoy this short but fascinating video. It explains more about what goes on inside a dog’s brain when interacting with humans.
Just click below to start playing:
Know When Petting a Dog Isn’t Appropriate.
There are times when petting a dog is best avoided:
1. Avoid Petting a Sleeping Dog (Unless You Know It Realy Well)
You might be tempted sometimes to pet a dog while they sleep. While this might seem okay, some dogs might not like it.
Petting a sleeping dog might trigger an aggressive reaction, especially if they think you’re a threat.
Therefore, it’s wise to understand that dogs—like humans—generally dislike when their sleep is interrupted.
In some cases, petting a dog while they sleep may be okay to make them feel more comfortable, so use your common sense with this one.
2. Don’t Pet an Unfamiliar Dog (Unless it Seems Very Friendly)
Suppose you’re at a friend’s home, and they have a dog. Unless it is evident that the dog wants to be petted, it’s best to check in with your friend to make sure it ok.
If they let you go ahead, be sure to approach the dog with care. Once you’re close to the dog, getting down to the dog’s level is ideal.
Most dogs are more comfortable when you make eye contact with them. Stroke them from the side you are on. Avoid putting your hand over their face, as they may perceive it as a threat.
When petting a dog for the first time, go for the shoulders or chest. Even if the dog appears friendly, these are safe spots and a great place to start.
Once you notice that the dog enjoys petting, you can go ahead and stroke other parts of their body, but still, keep an eye out for any signs they might not be enjoying it.
Final Thoughts On What Dogs Think When We Pet Them?
Dogs do not think in the same way that we humans do. So they don’t think about being petted. A good way to think about it is that they experience it.
Most dogs love being stroked, some dogs have areas where they don’t like it, and some dogs don’t like it at all.
If your dog doesn’t like being petted, you can slowly train them to learn to enjoy it, but this should be done carefully and compassionately not to upset them.
Tim is a proud, vetted, and experienced dog foster carer for a charity helping dog owners escape domestic abuse.
He has years of experience training and caring for dogs, both his own and other people’s.
He is an expert in canine behavior and is highly skilled in dealing with all dogs but specializes in the difficult ones that other people may struggle with.
When he isn’t fostering dogs, he is making friends with other people’s pups!