Mythbuster – All Dogs Love to be Pet (or is it petted?)

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bustamythAll dogs love to be pet right? And the easiest place to pet them is the top of their head, so it’s okay to  pet them there – they like it. And with little dogs, it’s okay to just pick them up and pet them! I think those myths have been busted pretty thoroughly over the last few years, but if not, we’re doing it now.

The truth is that MANY dogs don’t like to be pet and even more don’t like to be pet on the head. It can be viewed as threatening and dominant to a dog. If you think about it – would you like some stranger walking up to you and patting you on the top of the head?  Probably not.

Dogs are very expressive about their likes and dislikes, if you know how to read them. We write & read about the importance of watching your dog and understanding their language frequently. If you are paying attention, they clearly tell you if they are enjoying something or not and that includes petting. They are also expressive when meeting strangers and their feelings about that person, so learn to read their body language and know what your dog is saying to you.

When first meeting a dog, it is imperative to approach slowly and only after asking permission from the owner. You should not look directly at the dog and should close your fist and allow the dog to sniff you and become familiar with your scent before proceeding. Don’t reach out to the dog, let the dog come to you. After the dog has sniffed you, watch their behavior. If they are interested in taking your relationship to the next step (i.e. petting) it will be apparent – they will move towards you, they will actively wag their tails, their eyes will soften and they may even grin at you. A dog that looks away or backs away, a dog that just sniffs you and that was it…well, they just aren’t that into you and have no interest in taking it further. Respect their decision.

What about your own dogs – do they like to be pet all the time? The answer is, it depends. With our dogs, Jack LOVES to be pet. We joke that he must have never been pet his whole life because he is making up for it now. He sits beside us in the evening and would like nothing more than to be pet and rubbed for hours on end.  But when it’s dinnertime or we are out on a walk, he has no interest in being pet – there are far more important thing afoot that require his attention. Maggie on the other hand is not crazy about being pet – ever. She will allow it, but frequently gives very clear signals that she’s had enough. What are those signals? She looks away, she moves her head away or she moves herself away. If I compare her behavior to Jack’s, it’s very clear what each of them wants.

Here’s a simple video that shows the two behaviors clearly.

You can clearly see the differences in their behavior. Learn to read your dog, they will be happier if you respect their boundaries, just like you are happier when they respect yours.

Note: I got a comment from a reader saying I should use ‘petted’ instead of pet. I didn’t because it didn’t ‘sound’ quite right to me and the “Grammarist” says: The uninflected form (e.g., he pet the cat) is fairly common in informal contexts, especially in the U.S., but it usually gives way to petted in edited writing. That’s probably why it didn’t ‘sound’ right, but I guess it should be petted.

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We’re linking up to the This ‘N That Thursday Blog Hop with a little of this and a little of that, sponsored by 2 Brown Dawgs and Ruckus the Eskie!


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  1. Hi Y’all!

    Hope y’all have a wonderful, safe and healthy 2014 and beyond.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…This n That From 2013My Profile

  2. Bailie and I can’t get enough petting and snuggling, Katie is more independent and lets Mom know when she wants to be petted. On walks we are too busy for petting, but now and then we will stop and just want to hug and snuggle for a moment and then continue on our walk…but we are the ones that initiate it. You are correct, though, some dogs just don’t want to be petted at all.
    emma recently posted…I think I can explain… | GBGV | Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

  3. Great information. Thunder and Freighter love to be pet. Storm was not into it when she was younger, but now is very demanding…lol.

  4. I think this approach should also be imperatove to teach children, esp how to approach a dog…good manners …..i like “pet”

    • You are absolutely right – kids should be taught from an early age to never directly approach a dog and they even need to be mindful about their own dogs and reading what the dog likes and dislikes.
      mkob recently posted…Mythbuster – All Dogs Love to be Pet (or is it petted?)My Profile

  5. Bentley likes to get a pet but if you start at his head, he will go belly-up immediately for a scratch. It doesn’t matter if he just met you or not. Pierre will “force” pets by reaching for your hand and putting his head under it. He will mooch a pet from anyone. : ) I still prefer people to ask before they reach for them.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…This “N That ThursdayMy Profile

  6. This was a great myth to bust and slimdoggy you did it perfect! People think all animals want to be touched.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…This ‘N That ThursdayMy Profile

    • Thanks – I am guilty of being one of those people in the past.
      mkob recently posted…WINNER, WINNER!!My Profile

  7. Onyxx wants pets all the time from us and Mr. N doesn’t if he’s in the middle of something. Both dogs will demand pets from time to time though. I find with kids at least, they’re happy to just give Mr. N a treat instead of petting him.

  8. Perfect video to illustrate your information! I think that is one problem Cooper has with the teenage boys who live in our house… they tend to challenge him by petting him on top of his head and then they wonder why he barks at them. I’ll have to do some talking to the boys. Thanks so much for this info Jack and Maggie! Meghan
    Two Cats and a Cattledog recently posted…Buffy’s Haiku Thursday: Keeping it ClassyMy Profile

    • Your welcome…I think you are probably right about the barking – he’s asking them to stop!
      mkob recently posted…WINNER, WINNER!!My Profile

  9. Absolutely perfect. Honey loves hugging and cuddling in a way I know most dogs couldn’t tolerate. You have to know your dog (and other dogs you meet along the way).
    Pamela recently posted…Train Your Dog, Build Your BondMy Profile

    • Both Sally and Tino we’re like that – Sally would climb on top of you and just smother us with kisses. Maggie is a looooong way from that – I must say I miss it some times.
      mkob recently posted…The 6 C’s: A Pyramid Approach to Fitness and ChangeMy Profile

  10. Sydney doesn’t like to be pet on top of her head by people other than us. With us, she doesn’t flinch, but with others, she moves away. Rodrigo will take love how he can get it 🙂
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…Fur Mom Confessions | 7 Things I Gave Up to be a Dog MomMy Profile

  11. Oooo that’s a good video. A very good myth buster too because sometimes I don’t like to be petted/pet on my head either!
    Ruckus the Eskie recently posted…Keeping it Classy!My Profile

  12. Great post and great video. Jasmine loved attention and loved getting petted. UNLESS you were supposed to be doing something else, such as giving a treat or going for a walk. Then she would jump away sideways from under your hand and then look back at you. “You KNOW what you should be doing, dummy, petting is not going to cut it.”
    Jana Rade recently posted…Veterinarians Answer: If You Could Be Granted One Wish, What Would You Wish For?My Profile

    • Funny – if I go to pet Jack while he’s expecting a treat he just follows my hand with his mouth – up, down, sideways – he’s just looking for the treat.
      mkob recently posted…The 6 C’s: A Pyramid Approach to Fitness and ChangeMy Profile

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