Everything You Need to Know About Patting a Dog

Everything You Need to Know About Patting a Dog

04/03/2016

The first thing that many of us impulsively do when we see a dog is reach out and give them a pat (which is hardly surprising when most dogs look so irresistibly sweet!). Children in particular often want to stroke and cuddle dogs. But is that always such a good idea? Below are some useful tips on the best way to pat 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 a pat, as long as it's done in the right way. So, how exactly do you do that?

How Do You Know if it's Okay to Pat a Dog?

Always ask the dog owner's permission before you attempt to greet an unfamiliar dog. They understand their dog best and know whether or not he or she is comfortable with strangers. However, even if the owner does say it's okay, you should still pay close attention to the dog's body language. Does the dog pull away? Is he or she yawning nervously, licking their lips a lot or baring their teeth? If so, leave the dog in peace. These are stress signals that say - 'I'm finding this uncomfortable, please back off'. Similarly, if a dog puts their tail between their legs, growls or pulls his or her lips back, you're best leaving them well alone.

On the other hand, if a dog is calm and cheerful, and the owner agrees, you can quietly approach. Squat down on your heels and allow the animal to come to you. If the dog is curious (it will usually demonstrate this by sniffing around your feet :-)) you can let it smell your hand. Don't look the dog straight in the eye and give them plenty of space. If the dog approaches, calmly begin to pat it. Never pat a dog on top of its head or back upon first meeting. This is quite threatening in dog language and they will possibly thrust their head up in response, and at worst may even nip your hand. Instead, gently stroke the dog beneath his neck and on his chest. That way the dog can see exactly what you're doing: just the way they like it!

Photo: Twinkle Enyong

Walk Etiquette

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 patted by strangers. 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. The Yellow Dog is a global movement has specifically been created to increase awareness of those dogs that require more space. These special dogs are instantly recognisable by a yellow ribbon, lead or bandana. 

When a guide dog is 'working' he must be left alone

Once you're more familiar with a dog, they will usually enjoy being stroked, especially on the tummy, around her ears or on the side of the neck. Patting 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 beg you to do it! Remember though - always pay attention to a dog's body language. Has it had enough? Then it's time to leave it well alone.

We wish you lots of doggy patting pleasure :-)