It’s official! Your dog loves being petted. And most dogs simply can’t get enough of it.
Animal behaviour researchers have really cool jobs, and the researcher who did the study must have had a lot of fun in her research. It was published in the journal Behavioural Processes under the cute title “Shut up and pet me!”
A good petting beats vocal praise
Let’s not get this wrong. Vocal praise is rewarding for your dog, but if your pet can choose between petting and vocal praise, he’ll pick a good petting any day of the week.
The researchers theorised that being receptive to vocal praise is a learned response, but that a love of being petted was an inborn response. Dogs in the experiment cuddled up to strangers who were willing to pet them even when their owners were nearby giving vocal praise.
What kind of petting do dogs like?
A lot of people pat dogs on the head. The truth is, most dogs don’t really like that. To them, an approach from above is intimidating. Areas where most dogs like being petted include the base of the tail, the back of the neck and under the chin.
Of course, every dog is different, but generally speaking the ears, muzzle, paws and tail aren’t favourite petting spots.
Most dogs love a motion that’s similar to a gentle massage – well – they would, wouldn’t they? They show their enjoyment by leaning in – “Ahhh! That’s nice!”
Your pet tolerates but probably doesn’t like…
- Patting motions
- Confining hugs
- Hard slapping
You also don’t want to over excite your dog, so keep it gentle and not too vigorous. A little vigorous petting may be fine in playful situations, but be careful. An over-excited dog may even give you a sharp nip out of excitement rather than malice.
Some dogs actually enjoy being hugged and cuddled, but this is learned response. Watch your dog to see if he or she isn’t feeling quite comfortable with hugging or cuddles. Most dogs aren’t.
You can tell what your dog likes by watching his or her reactions. Tensing up, avoiding eye-contact and putting ears back or licking their lips are all signs of a dog who is not altogether happy.
A dog who is enjoying his petting will lean in towards you, while a dog who isn’t too happy with the form of attention you’re giving will tend to lean away.
Teach your kids
Kids can get away with just about anything when they’re petting or playing with the family dog, but it can be unpleasant for the dog, and someone else’s pet may not be as tolerant.
Even the family dog can lose patience, so good manners towards dogs should be taught for the sake of your child’s safety and your dog’s sanity.
Teach your children how to pet a dog and show them how they can make friends with other people’s pets safely. One of the key lessons is to ask the dog’s owner if it’s ok to pet their dog. Approaching strange dogs can have tragic consequences.
Petting your dog is good for you too!
It’s not just your dog that chills out and enjoys himself when he’s getting petted. You’ve probably noticed that making a fuss of your pet makes you feel good, but it’s also good for your health.
A study showed that 15 minutes of dog-petting improved the levels of the feel-good hormones serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin while reducing the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol.
And that’s not all. Petting your dog lowers your heart rate and your blood pressure too, and researchers are working on ways to use dog petting as a therapy for people with high blood pressure.
Food rewards still rock Fido’s world
Petting is fabulous, but you don’t have to feel as if you are depriving your dog if you don’t pet him constantly. Food rewards are still number one on the canine list of favourite things.
The good thing about this is that you can keep giving your dog rewards even when you’re not at home. Obviously just having a bowl of food at hand for random snacking won’t work – and your dog could end up overweight.
Interactive toys like the Foobler encourage play and the timer allows the toy to release treats or food at intervals.
Peter and the Team at Foobler