Sunday, July 22, 2018

"He loves to be petted!" ... or does he?!

I just recently posted this picture of my kids rubbing the belly of a dog that belongs to our chiropractor in Grapevine, Texas on my Facebook timeline. (Little plug for the wonderful Dr. Janelle Whitehead at Alpha Wellness Center.)

I captioned the picture on my timeline with this: Our chiropractor has an office greeter. 🙌🏼DOG TRAINING NOTE: Jango came over to us first and “asked” to be pet. We always wait for dogs to initiate interaction!

I had a wonderful past client comment with a fabulous question -- Just for my knowledge, how will they ask? --  Which prompted me to write this post.  It may very well be one of the most important things we teach others, especially children [of all ages]: How to tell if the dog wants to be petted or given attention to.

So, how do we know that dogs actually want to be approached, petted or given attention to?

We learn to read the dog, first and foremost. While most people can read obvious signals that a dog is uncomfortable -- ears back, tail tucked, hiding behind their owner, head lowered -- many people cannot read more subtle signals that will add up to a reaction of some kind if they aren't observed and respected.


  • Not all dogs like being petted. Yup. Sorry to burst your bubble but it's true. Some may even be fine just hanging out with you or near strangers but this doesn't necessarily equate to them wanting to be petted by you or strangers.
  • Some dogs like to be near you but aren't into physical interaction. There are some dogs that are friendly and totally fine with humans and hanging out, but they don't like physical touch by others. Some dogs like limited physical touch but not much, or often.
  • Dogs may have a random schedule of when they like to be petted, and it likely will change often.  Some dogs like being petted at certain times but not others. There is likely no real pattern or schedule here just like you may have a day where you would rather not talk to other people or socialize and other days you're ready to be invited to a party.
  • Your dog may absolutely love to be petted by you but not strangers.  They may also prefer one person to another in the same household.  In other words, your dog may be picky with whom she prefers petting from.
  • Some dogs may be totally fine with adults but not children. Children appear, sound and move differently than adults do. This is especially true with crawling babies, toddlers, and younger kids. Due to this fact, some dogs are not keen on some kids being near them let alone being petted by them.

It's important to understand how to read subtle body language and cues given off by dogs when interacting and/or attempting to interact with them. This is critical for you to teach your kids, especially when they see and/or approach a dog they are not familiar with.

Here is an excellent video from Dog Charming based out of Austraila on this topic with many wonderful tips, points and dogs being pet for clarification. I recommend you watch this with your kids and discuss what they show and discuss in the video.

Now you have a little more knowledge on dog body language and cues to read when and/if a dog wants to be pet or not. Let's understand what to do now when you encounter an unfamiliar dog. For the sake of this blog not becoming much longer, the dogs I am referring to are dogs that have an owner with them or possibly not right by them but near-by. This does not refer to strange dogs on the streets, with no known owner or that is a possible stray.


The first rule is to take a look at the dog's body language ...
  • Do you see any signs that the dog does not want to be pet (re-watch the video above if you need to!)?  If yes, then leave the dog alone and continue on. 
  • If the dog approaches you and seems to want your affection or attention remember these rules:
    • Do not pet a dog over/on top of the dog's head, most dog's do not like this.
    • Do not put your hand in a dog's face for it to sniff it. Instead, slowly offer an open palm for them to sniff, hanging your hand low & below the dog's chin-level or off to the side of the dog's body (as opposed to directly in front.)
    • After the dog sniffs you may pet it under the chin or on the side of the neck/body.
  • When a dog is friendly & clearly likes/wants to be pet be sure you don't allow your kids to hug or kiss the dog, ever. Strange dogs are never to be hugged or kissed by kids (um, or adults!).
  • Make your pet-session with a strange dog brief (3-5 seconds). If the dog clearly wants more petting (remember the signs from the video), you may do 3-5 more seconds. Do not linger too long, some dogs do like petting but only briefly.
This video is brought to you by the great folks at The Family Dog &  Great fun for the whole family to watch & learn from this one!

  • Teach yourself and your kids how to read dogs. Now, re-learn doggie body language. Don't forget the subtle signs, there are many of these we often miss.  Reading body language is everything.
  • Don't feel bad if you have to walk away from a dog that the owner states is ok when you see otherwise. Sadly, even well-meaning dog owners often don't know the signs their dog is giving off.
  • Always read the dog first, don't pet or approach based on the dog owner's suggestions or advice.
  • Visit, download and/or purchase some of these wonderful resources:
Brush up on your doggie body language skills, go over it with your kids and respect the dog's cues.  A dog will always "tell" you when they want to be petted and when they don't ... so be sure to "listen" when they do no matter what anyone else says.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex
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