Here is a Secret Way to Know If a Dog Really Wants to Be Petted

I was in an elevator the other day, and while going down, we stopped, and a lady came on with her three pups. She had three adorable Yorkies, all on a leash and well-behaved.

I always wonder when this happens, especially in a confined space, if dogs want me to pet them. I also wonder if the pet owner would approve of it.

I scooched down and put my hand out close to one of the dogs to let him sniff me. He was pretty shy and barely approached, so I took this as a no. But, it made me wonder: how to know if a dog wants to be petted?

How to know if a dog wants to be petted

Some dog trainers call this the "consent test." Since dogs can't speak and are naturally submissive to their owner, we must read between the lines. For example, your dog might not bark or walk away even if they don't want you to pet them.

Follow these steps to complete the consent test with your dog or someone else's:

  1. Calmly approach the dog and let them sniff you.
  2. Pet them gently, on the chest, for instance.
  3. Stop petting them and move your hand back.
  4. If the dog reinitiates contact, they want you to keep going. Otherwise, they are not interested.

I am a fan of body language, and I like to look at rooms full of people and try to understand what is happening. For example, have you ever seen someone on the other side of the room talk to someone else, and that person is slowly turning away, literally trying to get away? Yet, the person speaking does not realize it and keeps going.

Once you understand the dog's cues, it will be very obvious whether they want you to keep going or not.

Here is a list of positive cues that indicate the dog wants you to keep petting them:

  1. They approach you and enter your space.
  2. They position themselves near or below your hand.
  3. They use their paw to draw your hand.
  4. Their face looks relaxed.
  5. Their eyes get droopy.
  6. They jump on you. This one is obvious.

Many of these positive signs have one thing in common: if the dog wants you to pet them, they will try to get closer to you.

On the other hand, here is a list of negative cues that indicate you should stop petting them:

  1. They withdraw or move their head when you reach for them.
  2. They move away.
  3. They look away.
  4. They leave.
  5. They yawn, scratch themselves, or lick their lips.
  6. They lift a paw.
  7. Their eyes widen. This is often called "showing whale eye."
  8. They growl, snap. 

Again, the common point between all these points is the dog will try to move away from you. If not, they will, at the very least, not give you attention. 

How to pet your dog

I wrote an article on how to pet your dog a few months ago. I think it's important to remember there are good and bad ways to pet a dog. Also, you may want to pet a dog differently in a public space compared to at home.

A dog you know, or your dog, will usually be very comfortable around you and not mind you petting them.

You may pet them on their head directly, which is usually not advised if they're not your dog. The chest and upper back are also good options that will usually make your dog happy. 

Finally, if you're at home and not in a public place, you can give them a nice belly rub. If your dog is relaxed, they will go on their back and show you their most vulnerable side: their belly!

How to pet other dogs

When petting other dogs, you can start by asking their owner if it is alright to do so first. You should also perform the consent test I explained above. 

Some areas you should avoid are:

  • The face
  • The tail
  • The feet
  • The legs
  • Top of the head

When the other dog is not familiar with you, you may pet them on their chest and come from the side rather than the front. You may also pet them on their upper back.

Final thoughts

Dogs are all around us. You may find them at friends' homes, parks, or even your office. They all have different comfort levels with us, and we can't pet them all the same. So first, we need to make sure they invite us to pet them or keep petting them. Second, we need to understand that they prefer certain areas over others, and these areas will be different whether they know you well.


Comment below with your dog's favorite petting area! Also, remember to subscribe to my newsletter to get an email when I write new exciting content.

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Written by Leo Roux

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