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  • Liz MacHaffie

Petting Pets: Communicate About Touch



Many dogs and cats have mixed feelings about being pet! Just like people, what they're doing, the mood they're in, and their own personality can change whether or not they're happy with being touched. (Ever been hugged by someone you love dearly, when you just weren't in the mood for contact?)

One of the easiest ways to reduce stress on our pets and the chances that they'll get frustrated with us is to ask them if they still want to be touched. Here's how to do it!

Pat, Pat, Pet

  • Some animals feel better if we tell them when we're planning on petting them.

  • Pat your lap twice (sitting or standing) before petting your dog or cat.

  • If they move away or turn away, they are saying, “I don’t want to be pet right now.”

  • This is a good time to play with a toy or do some training with treats.

  • It’s also okay to just let them walk away and do their own thing!

  • If they stay still or move toward you with friendly body language, you can start to pet them! After a while, you might want to check in with some "Pet, Pet, Pause"

Pet, Pet, Pause!​

  • Pet your dog (or cat) for a short period.

  • Pause and hold your hand slightly away from his body.

  • If he moves towards your hand or nudges it, he is asking to be touched more and you can pet him more! If he doesn’t do anything, he’s probably all set and doesn’t want to be touched.

  • If you listen when he says he doesn’t want to be touched, it can help him know that he can say “no thanks” with his actions and that you’ll listen. When we don’t listen to our pets saying “no thanks”, they can feel like they have to growl or mouth or bite to make us listen.

Tips & Troubleshooting

  • It's polite and safest not to touch our pets while they're sleeping. (Even if they fall asleep next to us or on us! Sometimes they just want our warmth and presence, but touch is too stimulating.)

  • Young kids may need adult help. Kids and dogs should always be directly supervised when they're together. (Easier said than done, we know!)

  • As you do this with your dog or cat, you might notice that they start to become more affectionate! If they do, fantastic! This means the predictability and two-way communication is helping them feel better about getting attention. It's tempting to go back to our old behaviors of just petting them without telling/asking them, but be mindful that this could send them back to their old behaviors, too.

  • There are lots of other ways to bond with your pet! We can coach you on fun games, tricks, and activities that both you and they can enjoy.

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