How To Pet A Dog

Petting a dog appears to be so simple!

Of course, depending on your dog’s preferences and routines, there are numerous ways how to pet a dog.

Your interactions with a dog can make you his favorite person or the person he wants to avoid at all costs.

Most dogs will flee when they are petted using specific methods, but others will have them wag their tails joyfully in your hands.

Here are some suggestions for better petting, including avoidance strategies and practical techniques, whether you’re petting your dog or a new puppy. 

You as dog owners and / or dog lovers, want to know how to pet a dog the way a dog likes it.

Begin With An Appropriate Greeting

little dog with woman in background men on knees on the front

The first rule of petting is that you should never pet a dog who does not initiate contact.

If you want to pet your own dog, it might be easy to know how to react.

That is especially important to teach children who frequently approach a dog lying down, cornered in a room, or actively attempting to flee.

Instead of reaching out and touching the dog, get down on his level and invite him to initiate contact.

If the dog is wary or reserved, turn your body to the side to appear less intimidating.

By squatting down a little, patting your legs, and backing up while beckoning with your voice, you can encourage a confident dog to approach you.

When you first greet a dog, turn your body slightly to the side, make brief eye contact, and then wait for the dog to approach you.

Avoid hovering over the dog when greeting him because this might be interpreted as a threat.

To reassure a timid dog that you are safe to approach, pretend to ignore him and look away for a short period. 

Examine The Situation

Even the most affectionate dog can reject physical contact in tense circumstances, such as going to the vet or entering a dog park.

When getting ready to pet, always consider what’s happening around you.

dog looking from a door

Consider Dog’s Body Language

Reading your dog’s body language while petting him is essential because it will enable you to figure out where he prefers to be petted.

You can read his body language if you’re on the right track or if your dog would like it a little lower and to the left.

Watch for slow breathing, closed eyes, and a tendency to move closer as you touch.

If your dog yawns, moves away or licks his muzzle frequently, he probably doesn’t like the contact.

Ready, Set, Pet

brown dog ear getting petted

A friendly dog will approach with his ears slightly back, and tail held out at medium height behind him, wagging tail widely.

If he moves toward you with a loose, wiggly body posture and open eyes and mouth, or if he initiates brief contact through eyes, he most likely indicates friendliness and a desire for interaction.

When the dog sniffs your skin, he gathers information about you rather than inviting you to pet him.

Do not pet him if he backs away or appears nervous or jumpy.

After approaching, slowly pet the dog in areas where he is comfortable being touched.

When you stop petting him, a dog who enjoys petting will usually lean toward you or actively seek contact with you.

If the dog tries to flee or shows signs of discomfort, such as licking his lips or showing the whites of his eyes, reward him.

Important Things To Remember

white brown dog gets petted by two hands

Petting Dog’s Head And Dog’s Face

Be aware that some dogs dislike petting their heads and are considered “head-shy”.

Some dogs dislike having their hindquarters massaged or having other areas touched.

Continue rubbing in a different location if the dog calms down and moves toward you.

Any growl, tail down, or sudden movement should alert you to the need to stop what you’re doing and stand still. 

Make No Sudden Movements

Avoid abrupt or forceful scratches, patting or slapping it on the sides, and quickly changing locations.

You can alternate between stroking and light scratching or using one hand to using two hands if the dog prefers to be petted in a particular area.

A quick or vigorous pet can cause even a friendly dog to become overexcited and jump or snap at your hands.

But be gentle; you never know how this strange dog will react to more spirited animals.

Best Dog-Petting Locations

white brown dog gets petted by a woman on the bed

Dogs have different preferences for how and where they want to be touched, the dog’s sweet spots.

For some, an excellent scratch on the back right above the base of the tail may suffice.

Others see it as a relaxing massage for their tired shoulders.

Iterating between various locations and observing your dog’s reaction as you touch will help you determine how your dog prefers to be touched.

Even though it might seem odd to pay close attention to such a seemingly unimportant aspect of your relationship, affirming your dog’s preferences for petting is another way to show that you respect their opinions.

Most dogs enjoy being petted on the following parts of their bodies:

  • the neck’s sides

  • beneath the chin

  • shoulders

  • chest

If your dog is relaxed and lays on his back to show you his belly, he may request belly rubs.

However, in times of stress, a nervous dog may expose the stomach as an appeasement gesture.

Petting habits can also be linked to a dog’s history.

Dogs with ear infections or other issues, for instance, might object to having their heads touched, whereas other dogs without such a history might enjoy a gentle massage around their ear edges.

If you pay attention to the topography of your dog’s body as you stroke him, touch can also be therapeutic and a means of bonding.

Communication reduces stress, and pet owners who pay attention to their dogs while petting them are more likely to notice changes in their dogs’ coats, skin, and general well-being.

Don’ts Of Dog Petting

brown dog looks full of fear

Without Permission, Petting

Dog guardians will tell you if their dog is comfortable being touched.

Please respect the guardian’s decision.

Staring Into The Eyes Of An Unknown Dog

While humans perceive eye contact as friendly, dogs perceive it as threatening or aggressive.

Never direct your gaze or maintain eye contact with the dog you are approaching.

Never Lean Over Or Put Your Face Next To A Dog’s

As you pet the dog, turn your body slightly away from him.

Avoid directly rubbing a dog on the head.

Some dogs become incredibly nervous when a human leans over or crowds them.


Although hugs are enjoyable to humans, they are not a natural behavior for dogs, and many dogs become anxious when they are hugged or kissed because they feel confined and helpless.

Before You Go…

Now you know the answer to the question, “How to pet a dog?”.

If you want to learn more, read the following articles too!

Mena Emad, DVM
Mena has a Bachelor’s degree in veterinary medicine. His expertise, passion for animal welfare, extensive knowledge, and experience in the field of veterinary medicine make him an excellent resource for our readers.