About authors

Image of partner

Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

This article was written by TOBALIE in cooperation with Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

Dog owners are sure to agree on one thing: dogs are not only extremely loyal companions, they are also among our best friends and, ideally, family members. A simple gesture to show them our love and affection is petting. However, it is very important to know how to pet a dog properly to give them maximum relaxation and satisfaction in the process. By the way, not only our beloved four-legged friends benefit from extensive petting. How does petting a dog work?

What are the advantages from stroking for the dog?

Dogs are known to be very social animals that not only enjoy the closeness of other members of their species and the proximity to us humans, but also need it. Even as puppies, they seek physical contact with their siblings and with their dog mother. Even in adulthood, it is enormously important for dogs to seek physical proximity to other (familiar) dogs and humans in order to maintain and stabilise relationships.

One way to give our dogs this physical closeness is to pet them. Not only is the human-animal relationship strengthened, but some health-promoting benefits for the dog have already been proven several times.

Important: However, it is always a prerequisite that the dog really wants to be petted and that we do not “force” it.

  • The emotional bond between dog and owner is strengthened.
  • Petting can reduce stress in the dog and bring about a feeling of calm and relaxation.
  • Fear, anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings can be reduced by petting as it gives our furry friends a sense of security. 
  • Slows the heartbeat, blood circulation is improved.
  • Pain in the dog can be relieved, injuries can heal faster. 
  • Provides positive activity/distraction for the dog.
  • Generates feelings of contentment and security. 
  • Natural care of the fur.
  • Relaxation of the musculature.

Good to know:  We human also derive benefits from it. Among other things, petting releases the so-called cuddle hormone oxytocin (in animals and humans), which is known to make people happy. Furthermore, it has been proven that blood pressure is lowered, stress is reduced and the immune system is strengthened.

How do I know that a dog wants to be petted?

You should always be aware of one fact: dogs are individuals with different preferences and needs. Not every dog wants to be petted around the clock, others can’t get enough of being petted. However, when our dogs want to be petted, they usually signal it by sending body language signals.

  • Approaching: If a dog approaches you of its own accord and nestles against your leg or lays its head on your lap or even jumps onto your lap, this is a good sign that it wants to be touched and petted.
  • Posture: Dogs communicate with their bodies. Their facial expressions and gestures can tell you a lot about what they want to tell us.  A dog that wants to be petted will generally have a relaxed posture. Its mouth is relaxed, its ears are neither flattened nor pointed upwards (if possible). His tail may wag or be neutral. If the dog rolls onto its back in front of you (tail relaxed, not tucked in) and presents its belly, this is also a sign. 
Banner App

How do I know if my dog does not want to be touched?

On the other hand, it is also important not to pet the dog if it does not want to be touched. This can lead to discomfort, stress, fear and panic in the dog. The following are the signals a dog will send when it wants to be left alone:

  • Keeps its distance: The dog backs away when trying to touch it or moves out of your way? In most cases, this is a sure sign that he does not want to be touched.
  • Posture: The dog seems tense, disinterested, aggressive and stressed. His gaze is lowered, ears are flattened, tail may be tucked. Trembling, whining or growling is also possible. He is more likely to try to lean away from you or turn away.
  • Skipping actions: If the dog frequently licks his muzzle, yawns repeatedly or shakes himself from head to toe in such a situation, these may be signs of discomfort. Watch out for the so-called calming signals to recognise when your dog would rather be quiet.
  • Kiss to dismiss: This is when the dog licks you to create distance. Read more here.

Why not every dog likes to be touched?

Not every dog is a fan of being petted. There are dogs that do not approve of being touched at all and tend to avoid it for a variety of reasons:

  • Pain: A dog that is in pain in any part of the body does not want to be touched, especially not in the painful area. 
  • Traumatic experiences: Bad experiences with touching or the like can bring traumas to the dog’s memory. Enjoying petting is only possible if the dog feels safe.
  • Shy nature: Some dogs will run straight to you and literally throw themselves at your feet. Then there are other dogs that are very shy and cautious. Give them the time and opportunity to approach on their own. 
  • Personal preferences: There are dogs that don’t like to be petted at all or only at certain times or in certain places. You may not want to cuddle them all the time either.
  • Eating: Dogs want to eat in peace.
  • Sleeping: When your dog is blissfully asleep, a sudden touch could startle him.
  • Situation: In some situations dogs do not want to be petted. For example, on the dog run or during training. Even if petting is meant as a reward, it is often rather the opposite for the dog.

How do you pet a dog properly?

Some of you may be thinking, what can you possibly do wrong, but not every petting movement is pleasant for our cherished friends. In order to make petting your dog as pleasant as possible, you should therefore observe the following “rules”:

  • Petting should always happen casually. The dog should always be able to decide whether and for how long it wants to be petted. Forced petting will only achieve the opposite. The dog will then tend to avoid petting in the future. 
  • Do not stroke against the direction of hair growth, as this is unpleasant for most dogs. Especially if the coat is greasy or shaggy.
  • Make sure that the stroking movements are gentle and soothing.
  • Approach gently and keep a relaxed posture on your part. Avoid frantic movements and/or loud vocalisations. Make yourself noticed, never stalk the dog from behind and try not to lean over the dog, as it could perceive this as a threat. It is better to crouch down and let him come. 
  • Always pay attention to the dog’s body language. Stop petting if he becomes visibly agitated or suddenly shows the above-mentioned signs of reluctance.
  • If the dog falls asleep during this time, let him sleep in peace. 
  • Every dog finds other parts of the body (un)pleasant. If you don’t know the dog very well, concentrate initially on one area of the body, such as the side of the back and chest. Most dogs are comfortable with this. 
  • Take breaks from petting and see if the dog wants more petting or is happy to stop.

Tip: Some dogs don’t want to be petted, they prefer contact lying. Even leaning against you is enough for them as body contact.

Where do dogs like to be petted?

As already mentioned, dogs are individuals with different interests and preferences. The areas of the body where they like to be stroked also differ from animal to animal.

As a rule, however, dogs enjoy being stroked on the following areas:

  • Areas such as the back, chest and flank is high on the list for most dogs.
  • Many also like to be stroked behind the ears and under the chin. The head area is nevertheless sensitive.
  • Some four-legged friends also find it very pleasant to be stroked on the belly.

The following regions are rather unpleasant for many dogs when they are touched, but of course there are also dogs who prefer these regions.

  • Eyes, nose, muzzle.
  • Paws and legs.
  • Area around the genitals.
  • Tail. 

Excursus: Children and petting dogs.

Special care should be taken with small children. Because of their lack of motor skills and sensitivity, very young children in particular should not interact with dogs unsupervised. 

Young children must first learn how to interact with dogs. This includes proper playing, cuddling and even petting. It is very important that children learn to treat dogs (and of course all other animals) gently and respectfully.  For our children, petting a dog has other advantages besides those mentioned above. By petting a dog, children can train their ability to empathise and develop affection.

Beagle am Rücken wird gestreicelt


Most dogs love to be petted. The relaxing and happy effect of seeing a dog being stroked is undeniable. Incidentally, we humans also derive a clear (health) benefit from it. However, certain rules must be observed when petting and the dog should always be taken into account.