When you think about it, dog petting is a strange thing to do.
You don’t approach your friends and start scratching their bellies or petting the top of their heads, no matter how happy you are to see them or how proud you are that they didn’t pee on the carpet (everyone has that one weird friend…). But we don’t hesitate to pet a friendly dog.
But, strange or not, it’s something we do, and it appears that dogs enjoy it! So, let us delve into the subject and investigate this particular aspect of the human-dog relationship.
Humans and dogs have an unusually close interspecies bond.
Many other animals, such as venomous sea anemones and clownfish that live amidst their stinging tentacles, form symbiotic relationships; however, these similar relationships are nothing like the one formed between dogs and humans.
Dogs and humans have coexisted for tens of thousands of years (researchers disagree on the exact date of domestication), and because we’re both pretty smart creatures (weird friends aside), we’ve developed a very unique system of communication over this time. For example, when interacting, dogs and humans look each other in the eyes. This is extremely uncommon in the animal kingdom; wolves and chimps both regard eye contact as a threat. Dogs recognize pointing, but chimps and wolves do not.
The Relationship Between You and Your Dog
But the bond between humans and dogs extends beyond communication: when we interact with them, we alter their hormone levels, and they do the same for us.
They specifically increase the production of oxytocin, the hormone that is primarily responsible for the mother_baby bond that develops during the first few weeks of life. However, oxytocin has an impact on other aspects of our thoughts and behavior. Oxytocin contributes to the desire to be kind to others, and it is also at work when deciding whether or not to trust someone.
Scientists have conducted empirical research and discovered that when dogs and their owners stare into each other’s eyes, both experience an increase in oxytocin levels. A significant increase.
While brief gazes failed to elicit much of a change, participants who stared into each other’s eyes for the longest period of time experienced shocking increases in oxytocin.
In such cases, the dogs’ oxytocin levels increased by a minimum of 130%, while their owners’ levels increased by a whopping 300%!
In an interview with Science, canine cognition expert Brian Hare of Duke University put it perhaps best. “[It] suggests that dogs have hijacked the human bonding system,” Hare says.
So, why do dogs enjoy being petted?
Knowing that we have a unique communication with our dogs and that we influence each other’s hormone levels suggests that dogs enjoy physical contact from their owners, but it doesn’t explain why.
Unfortunately, scientists haven’t studied the subject thoroughly, so we’re left with little more than conjecture. There are, however, some intriguing and plausible theories as to why dogs enjoy a good pat. Some of the factors that may cause dogs to enjoy petting are as follows:
It simply feels good. Humans enjoy all types of pleasant touching, and dogs are likely to be similar.
It acts as a kind of “social glue,” similar to how grooming behaviors foster relationships in many primates.
It has health benefits such as lower blood pressure and heart rate. We know that these things happen in people, and dogs have a lower heart rate after being petted by their owners.
Physical contact, in a broader sense, can act as an emotional thermometer. Humans can often determine the emotions of others through touch alone, according to research; perhaps dogs can do the same.
Similarly, touch may aid social animals (such as humans and dogs) in keeping track of their group members.
Dogs most likely enjoy petting for a combination of these reasons. However, without additional research, we will have to continue speculating (although you should speculate while petting your pup).
Stop Yappin’ and Begin Pettin’
In order to better understand the human-dog relationship, University of Florida researchers devised a series of tests to determine whether dogs preferred receiving vocal praise or hands-on praise. It turns out that dogs not only prefer to be petted by their owners, but they also don’t seem to care much about vocal praise.
The researchers discovered that dogs spent more time with people who petted them than with people who only offered vocal praise. In fact, the researchers discovered that for vocal praise to register, it had to be combined with some other form of positive feedback.
As an example, you could give your dog a treat while telling him, “good boy!
” After a while, the vocal praise will elicit a positive reaction without the need for the treat.”
Of course, this ignores the fact that your dog would still prefer you to pet him, which requires no conditioning at all. Simply call him over and begin petting him.
The Dos and Don’ts of Dog-Friendly Petting
Regardless of why your dog probably enjoys being pet, it’s critical that you pet him correctly. Despite our close relationship, dogs do not interpret things in the same way that humans do, so it is critical to pet your dog in the manner that he will appreciate the most.
First, inquire (it’s not just for kids)!
Never approach an unfamiliar dog and begin petting him. That’s a good way to stress him out or get bitten. Always ask the owner’s permission first, and then approach the dog from the side rather than the front.
If you know the dog well (perhaps he is a friend’s pet, or you see him frequently at the dog park), you can cut the “meet and greet” portion of the process in half; just be careful not to startle him and read his body language.
More information on how to approach canines politely can be found in our guide on how to greet an unfamiliar dog!
Extend a loose fist (more like a paw) with your palm facing down, a few inches below the dog’s face. You can start petting him gently once he starts sniffing or licking your hand and wagging his tail.
Dont Touch The Face:
Most dogs prefer to have the chins or sides of their faces petted rather than the top of their heads. Many dogs find head patting stressful and intimidating, despite the fact that it is the first place many of us are drawn to pets.
Once the dog has shown his appreciation, begin petting him on the chest, sides, shoulders, or back haunches.
Where Is the Best Place to Pet a Dog?
Different dogs will appreciate being petted in different places, but there are a few common places where most dogs will wag their tails and smile.
These are some examples:
The upper Chest:
Many dogs love having their chest (most notably the area between the front legs) petted or scratched. This is an excellent location to pet your dog while he is sitting; simply sit beside him, wrap your arm around his body, and pet or scratch the chest region.
Because this type of petting requires a great deal of intimacy and is so close to your dog’s vitals, it’s best reserved for dogs with whom you’ve already developed a trusting relationship.
The Butt Area:
This is probably the most popular area for dogs to be petted, and they will frequently lose their minds if given five minutes of continuous scratching in this area. While doling out the lovin’, work the entire region, from one hip, across the booty, and over to the other hip. Also, pay special attention to the base of the tail; many dogs enjoy petting in this area.
Most dogs who accept petting and act friendly toward you enjoy butt and hip scratches, so this is a good way to progress your friendship with a new dog.
Start gently rubbing his ears, especially near the base, where most of the cartilage is, if you want a dog to stare at you lovingly for a while. Massage the area gently, as well as the surrounding jaw and neck area, to achieve the best results.
If you want to help your dog relax, gently massaging the tips of his ears usually works well. This may even assist some dogs in falling asleep.
When a dog is completely at ease with you, he will frequently roll over and expose his belly. Take advantage of this opportunity by petting him or gently scratching his belly, and you’ll most likely make a lifelong friend. Many dogs will even perform the stereotypical kicking behavior if the scratching is done correctly, so look around for his favorite spot.
Dogs frequently enjoy having the sides of their belly petted, though some prefer that you move down near the crease between their back legs and belly.
Under THe Chin:
Although you should exercise caution when petting the underside of a strange dog’s chin, most dogs enjoy being petted in this location. If the dog is comfortable and relaxed, you can even work from the tip of the chin down toward the neck area.
For the best results, be gentle when petting this area; it isn’t suitable for the kind of vigorous petting that a dog’s haunches or back are.
Shoulder And Back
Many dogs enjoy having their shoulders or backs petted, scratched, or patted. This is not a good place to pet unfamiliar dogs, but your own pet might enjoy it. Because there is a lot of furs and thick skin in this area, you can be fairly vigorous when doing so (within reason).
Petting Strategies and Techniques for Maximum Pleasure
Petting a dog isn’t rocket science, but there are definitely better and worse methods. Just keep the following pointers in mind, and you’ll be a dog-petting pro in no time.
Adjust the Pressure
Some dogs enjoy vigorous petting, while others prefer a gentler touch.
Large, confident, and playful dogs will generally prefer the former, whereas small, skittish, or shy dogs will prefer the latter. Simply try to read your dog and adjust the amount of pressure (along with the type of petting you use) until you figure out what he prefers.
Keep in mind that different levels of pressure will be appreciated by dogs in different areas. The majority of dogs prefer vigorous petting on their haunches or chest, but they prefer a light touch under their chin, on top of their head, or around their ears.
Keep Your Pet From Being Overstimulated
A good petting session can really get your dog going, so try not to overstimulate him when you’re just sitting on the couch. Maintain gentle and slow petting, and try to encourage your pup to remain calm while receiving affection. Slow things down and move to the ears for a moment if he starts getting too worked up; this usually calms him down.
On the other hand, if you’re out in the backyard or just got home from work, it’s probably not a bad idea to get him worked up (occasionally, a particularly splendid petting session will trigger the zoomies, so be prepared).
Stop If Your Dog Displays Unwanted Behavior
Some dogs may become overly insistent on having their haunches or belly scratched, which can be aggravating. When they decide they deserve praise, they may begin “nosing” your hand to get it into the proper position or crawl up on your lap.
It’s difficult to blame them for wanting hands-on affection, but you don’t want to encourage it. When your dog does something like this, don’t scold him; instead, stop petting him. By removing the incentive, you should be able to discourage these behaviors.
You can also read: how to remove pet hair from carpet
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