Do Dogs Like Petting?
Many of us love touching, petting and cuddling our puppy dogs. However, is the feeling mutual? Do our dogs really like all this fuss from humans? More importantly, should dogs like all the touchy-feely attention from not only their own human, but complete strangers? To know if dogs like petting, you can consider your scruffy little pups currently by your side. On a larger scale, think about all the dogs, wild & wonderful, you have had the pleasure of knowing throughout your lifetime. Finally, on the grandest of all scales, evolutionary time scale, contemplate all the domestic dogs that have ever existed over the last 40,000 years. Did domestic dogs always like petting? And….why should we care? The more we think from the dog’s perspective, the better we will be able to communicate with our dogs, and the sooner our dogs will become the best dog in our world.
The Dog’s Perspective
To answer this question from the dog’s point of view, we need to think on an evolutionary time scale. This evolutionary perspective provides a scientific explanation that does not require years of psychological studies in artificial laboratory conditions to determine if dogs like petting or not. However, rather than asking if dogs like petting, consider if early pre-domesticated dogs who were friendly and willing recipients of physical contact from early humans had an evolutionary advantage. Thinking from the dog’s perspective is an evolutionary approach to understanding dogs and their complex coevolutionary relationship with humans.
Dog & Human Coevolution
Our coevolutionary partnership with dogs is one of our species greatest achievements, and our species’ evolutionary success might have depended on our teaming up with these cuddly canine companions. Based on our innate human behavior of forming close relationships with other animal species, early humans probably chose friendly dogs over aggressive dogs as candidates for canine companions. Early humans probably avoided unfriendly dogs, making perfect sense because nobody wants to risk becoming a doggy chew toy. In addition, friendly dogs naturally fit the idiom of not biting the hand that feeds them, one of the golden rules to achieving an Utopian existence with your canine companions. Non-aggressiveness was an essential trait in early dog-human coexistence, which is the fundamental reason why dogs are inherently friendly to humans.
Popular Perceptions & Mis-Perceptions
Most people today would agree that dogs, in general, like physical contact with humans. Evolutionary theory supports that early humans selected friendly dogs over aggressive dogs for companionship. And, this assumption still holds true today by surveying dogs in our American households. Many dogs are very tolerant, if not demanding, of petting and other types of physical attention from their human companions. Ironically, some contemporary experts in animal behavior claim that dogs do not like petting, which is not logical because this claim does not make any common sense or evolutionary sense. Choosing friendly dogs over aggressive dogs for companionship makes logical sense, in the past and today. Domestic dogs really enjoy and seek out physical attention from their beloved human companions. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and these exceptions typically carry a sad story that the dogs cannot tell us.
Why We Should Pet Dogs
There are countless reasons why we humans should touch and pet dogs. To dog lovers, our furry companions are just so cute and irresistible, it is a no-brainer. Petting dogs is natural and feels wonderful! In addition, touching and petting dogs is a form of dog-human communication. Although we may tell our dogs, through spoken words, that we love them, that does not register in their canine minds because dogs do not understand English. We may think we are displaying love and affection to our dogs by dowsing them with lots of doggy treats, but all it does is feed into the obesity problem among pet dogs. Food rewards are not always translated in the same way in the dog’s brain. Although food was critical in the early, rudimentary stages of the human-dog relationship, it can become an obstacle in communication because of some dog’s obsessiveness with food. In contrast, touching and petting dogs clearly communicates with dogs that human intentions are kind and friendly, no matter how obsessive they are for physical contact with humans.
Why Dogs Should Like Petting
Dogs should be willing recipients of touch and petting from humans, no matter their personal living situation, be it living with quiet, single individuals to boisterous, active families. By definition, the pet dog should be, at the very least, tolerant of petting. Luckily, the more a tolerant dog receives petting, the more they will thrive and love humans. Try an at-home experiment by fostering a shelter dog lacking a loving family and give that puppy some good loving. You will see, right before your eyes, a dog who is scared, insecure bundle of nerves blossom into a well-adjusted, lovable fur baby. Dogs are inherently friendly to humans and other animals and should not be aggressive. Some dogs are taught to be protective, but that is different from uncontrolled aggression. If dogs are unnecessarily aggressive, aside from poor breeding, they were either taught to be aggressive (e.g. dog fighting) or learned fear aggression from abuse. Luckily, because dogs are inherently friendly, modification of these maladaptive behaviors will allow all dogs the opportunity to be the best dog in someone’s world.
Next…..how to incorporate touch and petting in successful dog training to bring out the best dogs in everyone’s world.
Kathryn R. Gubista, PhD offers concierge dog training, dog walks, dog runs and pet care services through Lucky Dog Training Asheville and has over 30 years of training experience in obedience, tracking, agility, sheep herding, dock diving and fieldwork. The Dog’s Perspective is a training philosophy based on how dogs think. Kathryn is an evolutionary biologist and teaches diverse biology courses in higher education settings.