Physical touch is a powerful way to communicate with a dog. By far the most common means is petting. While petting might seem like a no-brainer, that so many people do it incorrectly is incredible.
First of all, petting a dog is not “patting” a dog. “Patting” is a slap and similar in motion to dribbling a basketball. Dogs don’t like to be “patted” anywhere but especially on their heads. (I’ve seen dogs flinch when being “patted” on the head.) Watch while a dog is getting “patted.” It’s obvious by the expression and reaction of the dog that it’s not a pleasing or enjoyable experience.
What dogs really like is being touched with gentle, stroking motions. This petting can be applied differently to various parts of the dog’s anatomy and to convey specific messages. Long, slow, light strokes calm and quiet a dog while harder, short, quick pets will excite. Petting a dog under its chin is similar to how a submissive dog reacts to a more dominate dog and isn’t the message to convey. When petting the side of the head or cheek area in a front-to-back motion, the dog assumes a “submissive grin” which reinforces your status as the pack leader.
All dogs have a “sweet spot” where they love being petted. This spot is the area between and slightly behind the shoulder blades. When dogs roll on their backs on grass or carpet, they are really focusing on these parts of their bodies. It’s obvious how good it feels.
Petting your dog using the proper touch, technique and location is very important. You’ll be communicating the message you desire and the dog will be much happier, too!