Everything you need to know about petting a dog
The first thing that many of us instinctively do upon seeing a dog, is to reach out and stroke him. Which is hardly surprising when most dogs look so irresistibly soft and cuddly. Children in particular want to stroke and cuddle dogs. But is that always such a good idea? Below are some useful tips on the best way to pet a dog.
Unlike people, dogs are not real huggers. Yet, we humans have the tendency to wrap our arms around every dog we meet. Most dogs find such an approach uncomfortable or even downright frightening - not such a good idea after all! Fortunately many dogs do enjoy being petted, providing it's done in the right way. So, how exactly do you do that?
How do you know if it's okay to pet a dog?
Always ask the dog owner's permission before you attempt to stroke her. They understand their dog best and know whether or not she likes strange hands petting it. However, even if the owner does say that it's okay, you should still pay close attention to the dog's body language. Does the dog pull away for example, is she yawning, licking her lips or baring her teeth? If so, leave the dog in peace. These are stress signals that the dog uses to say: I'm finding this uncomfortable, please back off. Similarly, if a dog puts her tail between her legs, growls or pulls her lips back, you're best leaving her well alone.
On the other hand, if a dog is calm and cheerful, and his owner agrees, you can quietly approach him. Squat down on your heels and allow the animal to come to you. If the dog is curious (he will usually demonstrate this by sniffing around your feet :-)) you can let him smell your hand. Don't look the dog straight in the eye and give him plenty of space. If the dog approaches, calmly begin to pet pet. Never pat a dog on top of its head or around its neck upon first meeting. This is quite threatening in dog language and he may thrust his head up in response or even nip your hand. Instead gently stroke the dog on his shoulders.
Photo: Twinkle Enyong
During a walk
As a dog owner or dog sitter, you no doubt want to stroke almost every dog you come across in the street. But as already mentioned, not all dogs like to be petted. With some dogs there's an additional reason not to approach: it might be anxious or aggressive for example, it could have an injury or illness, or may be in training or a guide dog and thus mustn't be distracted.
When a guide dog is 'working' he must be left alone
Once you're more familiar with a dog, she'll usually enjoy being stroked, especially on her tummy, around her ears or on her flanks. Petting and massaging strengthens the bond between you and your dog and some dogs become so fond of being made a fuss of, that they'll even invite you to do it! Remember though - always pay attention to the dog's body language. Has it had enough? Then it's time to leave it well alone.
We wish you lots of doggy petting pleasure :-)