Dogs are social animals that very much enjoy being around humans. Often you will find your pet coming to you to be stroked behind the ears, or on the back and belly. They will lean in to you, gently close their eyes and softly pant as you stroke them. At times they may slowly move forward or backwards so that you are petting them in a preferred area such as their chest or just above the tail. They may even fall asleep. Stroking your pet is a great way to build and maintain a loving bond, reinforce desired behavior and support his calm state. Stroking your pet is also a great way to check his coat and note if there are any parasites, snags in fur or changes in his body that could indicate a health problem. While most dogs enjoy being stroked it is important to observe your pet’s reaction to being pet and where he likes to be pet.
The Root of the Behavior
Encouraging the Behavior
Stroking your pet makes both you and your pet feel good but it is important to note there are times when it is beneficial and there are times when it is not appropriate. When you pet your dog you are reinforcing the behavior that has recently occurred. You should pet him when he is producing a desired behavior and is calm and being submissive. It is a good idea to pet him when he is being stable. You can pet him after he has changed a negative behavior, exercised, eaten or has performed a desired behavior. Some studies suggest that your dog responds better to your stroking as behavior reinforcement than verbal praise. Many trainers find you can illicit greater changes with stroking your pet than with using treats. Do not stroke your pet if he has misbehaved, as he will take it as a sign of reinforcement. You should also avoid stroking him when he is barking, whining, being aggressive, breaking a rule or fearful and anxious. If you pet him at these times, while it may intuitively feel like the right decision, you are actually reinforcing those behaviors and it will be harder to break them in the future. When you stroke your pet, make sure he is comfortable. Every few minutes stop to see if he walks away and needs a break. A dog that is restricted or confined may feel defensive and not welcome the physical attention. Dogs do not often enjoy being hugged either as it can feel constrictive. When stroking a dog, pet him on the side you are on to avoid reaching over him. He could also see this as aggressive and be put on the defensive. Most dogs love to have their belly rubbed, but only if they present their belly to you. Do not roll a dog over or force him onto his back for a belly rub if he has not asked you to so. If a dog has rolled over in greeting you, he is being submissive, not inviting you to stroke his belly. Doing so at this time can make him anxious. Always ask an owner if you may pet her dog, especially if the dog is on a leash.
Other Solutions and Considerations
In general, dogs do not like to be patted, especially on the head. Slapping their sides and petting them vigorously can also over-stimulate them and cause them to become defensive or anxious. Studies have shown that dogs pet on the paws and jaw often showed signs of stress. If your dog seems to shake off a petting session, he most likely did not enjoy where or how you were stroking him. Children should be taught how to approach a dog and pet him appropriately as children can often make dogs anxious. They should be encouraged to remain calm, be gentle with their petting and keep it to a minimum. Almost on instinct children are drawn to patting a dog and hugging them, as well as getting close to their face and touching their eyes. All of these behaviors should be discouraged and avoided as the dog will become uncomfortable, anxious and possibly aggressive. The more you pet your dog, the more you bond but also the more familiar you become with his coat and body. You will be more apt to notice if his skin or fur has a problem, or if he has developed a possible medical problem such as tumors or lesions. If a pet that used to love being stroked suddenly does not enjoy your attention, he also may have a medical or behavioral problem that a vet or trainer may need to address.
Your dog likes to be stroked because it feels good, it is a form of bonding and it tells him you are his. Your dog likes to be stroked on his shoulders, chest and back of the neck, and he likes when you use slow firm hands in the direction of his fur. You can stroke your dog to bond and to reinforce desired behaviors. Be careful to not stroke dogs that are unfamiliar to you or dogs that are restrained. Try to not pat the dog on the head, tail or paws and refrain from hugging him or stroking his belly if he presents it while meeting you in a submissive way. If the dog is timid, gives the white side eye or licks his lips he may not want to be pet. Take breaks from stroking your dog to ensure he is still interested. Do not stroke him if he has misbehaved, is barking or anxious. Over all, pet your pet and he will be stoked.