Understand your furry friend
It’s so easy to lavish affection on our precious pups. We can’t resist kissing their cute faces, giving them belly rubs and scratching behind their ears. And they like it too – if we pause for just a second, they paw our hand in protest. It makes you wonder: why do dogs like to be petted?
To get to the bottom of it, we chatted with experts in pet behaviour. Heads up: the answer is even more fascinating than you might think. And if the info below gets the gears of your brain turning, sate your canine curiosity by learning about other dog behaviours, like why your dog stares at you, or gets the zoomies. Could these be signs your dog needs affection? Read up to better understand your furry best friend.
Why do dogs like to be petted?
In our hearts, we know the answer to “why do dogs like to be petted?” It feels good! But along comes science to confirm it. Research shows that when we interact positively, such as through cuddling and petting, both dogs and humans get a boost of oxytocin, the warm-and-fuzzy hormone.
But there’s another compelling reason dogs love petting. “Dogs are social animals, and the behaviour that we call allogrooming [when animals of the same species groom one another] is quite common in social animals,” says veterinary behaviourist, Dr Valarie Tynes. Just think of the mutually beneficial grooming you see among monkeys at the zoo.
Grooming between humans and dogs, however, tends to be a one-way street. We groom our dogs, of course, but they don’t groom humans much – except when they lick us. When they do that, it’s basically the equivalent of them grooming us, says Dr Tynes. “It’s very likely that this social grooming behaviour evolved along with canine domestication,” she says.
Where are the best spots to pet a dog?
That depends. Dogs are individuals and have personal preferences when it comes to the places they want you to pet them. “My last few dogs liked to be petted on their rump, right above their tail head,” says Dr Tynes. “My current dog prefers her chin and neck to be rubbed/scratched.”
Typically, the sweet spots are those they can’t reach on their own or areas where they won’t feel vulnerable. “One of the most important things to keep in mind when petting dogs is to let the dog tell you what it likes by paying attention to its behaviour.” Try under the chin or on the rump, shoulders or chest. What about the coveted belly rub? Some dogs really dig this and find it delightfully ticklish, hence the scratch reflex or, less technically speaking, the cute puppy kicks that ensue. Other pups give it a hard pass.
Aside from making your pup feel good, petting can have a calming effect on stressed-out or anxious dogs (thanks, oxytocin). Give your four-legged friend a generous petting when stressful times arise, like before you leave the house or go to the vet. It just might help you relax too.