Dog Body Language: Do Not PetPublished June 29, 2011
Think the dog in the photo is enjoying the petting he’s getting? Everything in his posture says, “No thanks,” but I watched the petting continue despite his obvious displeasure. At times it looked like the little Chi wanted to bite the petter!
Petting can be a selfish act if the dog on the receiving end doesn’t appreciate it. So how can you tell if Fido welcomes your touch? You can examine his body language,from the ears down to the tail, for clues about how he feels, or you can try this quick test: pet for a moment, stop, and watch what the dog does next.
A dog that is enjoying your touch will likely lean in to you, paw at your hand or do something similarly obvious to let you know that he’d appreciate more, thank you.
The dog that isn’t enjoying the petting will probably move away, even if it’s only a step or two. Some dogs just shift their body weight away, or move their head out of the “strike zone.” The point is the dog tries to put distance between his body and your hand. Obvious, right? Of course, this test is best used when you have already asked the person at the other end of the leash if it’s okay to touch their dog.
I meet a bunch of dogs every day that are completely over-stimulated by the sights and smells in the store; usually petting from me is the last thing they want. As difficult as it is to refrain from touching every canine visitor, I honor their subtle requests to “just let me shop, lady!”
Happily, there are exceptions. A sweet old Golden shopper comes in and sits behind the counter with me, whimpering for shoulder massages and flicking her nose at my fingers when I stop. A Brussels Griffon opts out of playing with Millie and leans against me for some love. More often than not, though, my canine shoppers just want to Hoover the floor.
Deciphering dog body language is a nuanced skill, and my little “stop and watch” tip only scratches the surface of learning to read a dog. However, it’s an easy way to take a step back and assess if a dog considers you a pleasure or a pest. (Believe it or not, that there are some dogs that don’t enjoy petting at all. Stay tuned for more!)