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If you’re with your golden retriever, you’re probably petting him right now.
Generally, golden retrievers –and some other breeds–can’t get enough petting. They’re very tactile and love the attention.
Some love petting even more than treats or verbal praise.
Note from Colby: My Golden, Raven literally has her head on my lap trying to solicit me to pet her while I write.
Some Common Reasons Goldens Always Desire To Be Petted
Your golden goes over to you with big puppy-dog eyes pleading “pet me!”
He may also nudge your hand to be clear what he desires. Or he may even put his head on your lap as you’re sitting, watching TV.
You can almost hear him pleading “PET ME!”
There are actually some reasons why your dog does this. And he’s probably not aware of why he has such a yearning to be petted.
1. He enjoys it! It feels good!
Sometimes the answer’s as simple as that.
Just as we may enjoy a massage, he may enjoy being petted.
2. It furthers the bond with us
Of course our pups don’t consciously realize there are scientific benefits to petting that benefit our dogs as well as us.
Petting increases the level of oxytocin in us and our canine companions. This hormone is responsible for the mother-baby connection.
It’s a “feel good” hormone that helps us trust and be kind to others.
3. Petting demonstrates affection
Petting our dog usually shows them how much we care for them. They can also show their affection to us by their body language while being petted.
If they have relaxed body language and a “happy mouth” in which their tongue hangs out, they probably enjoy the contact.
Some goldens even rub against us when we pet them. And their tail often happily wags in a relaxed, loose, not stiff, motion.
4. Petting may lead to subsequent rewards
Sometimes we pet our dogs and give them other rewards after we stop.
A reward may be a treat, a toy, a game, or even praise.
So, according to our dog, it’s a two-fer: getting petted and another reward. It gives even more motivation to be petted.
5. They may want to be petted because of their anxiety
They may pace, whine, and have a tense body.
Since being petted may feel great and even lessen stress and anxiety, they may solicit and accept petting.
There’s even a type of doggie massage called the Tellington Touch which, if done correctly, can decrease a dog’s stress.
6. Petting serves as a sort of “social glue” that keeps the pack together
It can be similar to grooming behaviors among many primates.
7. Petting can provide health benefits
It’s been established that petting can lower our blood pressure as well as our dog’s.
8. Petting can be a reward for the golden
Because many goldens love being petted, it can be a reward for other behaviors he performs.
For example, if he comes when called, part of his reward can be petting him.
In fact, research shows that dogs prefer petting over verbal praise.
My golden Brandi loved verbal praise. But being petted was the ultimate reward to her.
9. The dog may be seeking attention
You’re busy at your computer. Suddenly, you feel a dog next to you looking up with pleading eyes that say “pet me.”
Your dog wants your attention.
How Can I Tell if My Dog Doesn’t Like Petting?
Some dogs don’t love–or even like–being petted. Or they may not like being petted on certain areas, like the top of their head.
Or they may not like the way the petting is being done.
When your dog doesn’t enjoy petting, he’ll probably show you. He may:
- Duck his head
- Move away
- Look away
- Lick his lips
- Show a “whale eye” when the whites of his eyes show
- Have tense body language
- Demonstrate any type of aggression (growling, snapping, baring teeth)
If your dog demonstrates that he doesn’t like to be petted, I wouldn’t insist on it.
Of course, dogs should accept basic handling, because we have to touch them in various ways.
You might have to put on or take off his leash or collar, groom him, or otherwise handle him.
And I’ve found in training many dogs over the years that the majority–especially goldens–enjoy being petted.
Of course, there may be an exception when a dog hasn’t been handled from puppyhood. And some dogs who’ve been abused won’t enjoy being petted.
Also, the handling and petting must not be too rough or a dog probably won’t enjoy it.
Of course, if your dog demonstrates any aggressive behavior, it’s advisable to get the professional help of a behaviorist or a positive reinforcement dog trainer with experience and success with such behavior issues.
It’s also important to obtain such professional help if your dog truly doesn’t like any petting or handling. Most dogs can be trained to accept–and even enjoy–such interaction.
What Should I Do If My Dog Insists on Being Petted?
It’s great having a dog who loves being social. But it’s not so much fun when your pup constantly insists on being petted.
You may have something else to do.
If you can’t pet at the time he nudges or barks at you to be petted, your dog may become stressed and pace and whine.
So it’s important to properly set limits as you would with any behavior.
1. If your dog has anxiety issues, deal with them
If your pup has general anxiety or separation anxiety, it’s best to consult with a behaviorist to help.
Anxious behavior can also result in some illnesses, so you might want to also discuss this with your vet.
After you successfully deal with and work with any stress or anxiety issues, the constant need to be near you and be petted should lessen or disappear.
2. Give your dog attention throughout the day
Dogs who have their needs met throughout the day are less likely to constantly seek attention.
So, throughout the day, pet your dog occasionally. Have a few short training sessions. Play with him and walk him too.
3. Teach your dog to be petted on cue
You can call your dog next to you and use the command/cue “petted” as you pet him. Give him a small, pea-sized treat at the same time.
Remove your hand when he’s done the treat. Repeat this training exercise three times per session, two or three times a day.
If you’re consistent, most dogs will understand that they get petted on your “petted” cue only.
It may take days or weeks, depending on the dog.
4. Provide a sufficient amount of exercise for your dog
Young goldens have energy to spare.
If they’re not given enough exercise, all their behaviors may be over-the-top. Including an insatiable desire to be petted.
Make sure your dog has enough walks and play for his age and breed.
A young golden or lab usually has much greater exercise needs than a young yorkie.
Ten minutes of retrieving may be plenty for a yorkie, but it’s just a warm-up for a young retriever.
5. Give your dog a job through obedience training
Teach him basic commands–attention, sit, down, stay, come, and leave it.
Then, you can even train him to perform more advanced commands and tricks.
Training will provide the right type of attention for your dog and will also teach him what behaviors are acceptable.
6. Teach your dog to go to a place
Teaching your pup to go to a bed or mat across the room will help him get used to not always being next to you.
Of course, you’ll teach him to stay on the mat until released.
7. Ignore the request
If your dog gets too pushy and demands that you pet him, one way to stop it is to ignore him briefly.
You can turn away or walk away. If you do this consistently, he’ll get the idea that pushy behavior doesn’t get what he wants: to be petted.
It’s important that dogs have some impulse control.
My Aussie mix Millie LOVES to be petted. But she insisted on it by nudging or barking for such attention.
My getting up and walking away taught her that behavior doesn’t get the petting she desires.
But of course I do pet her when I call her over. I want her to be happy and enjoy our bond.
How Should I Pet My Dog?
Generally, you don’t want to pet in a harsh way. Most dogs won’t enjoy it if you rub too hard or too fast.
Even those who enjoy that type of petting may get too revved up then.
There are certain areas on a dog’s body where they generally like to be petted. And there are some where they don’t.
1. Dogs generally like being petted on their upper chest, hips, and butt.
They also may enjoy being petted on the side of their face or under their chin.
And they may love gentle ear rubs, including the tips of their ears. This may relax them.
If a dog is totally relaxed with you and trusts you, he may love being petted gently on his belly.
PRO TIP: Most people will first pet a dog on the top of the head. This is not a the best idea. Did you know most dogs don’t love being petted on the top of their head. Though we can condition them to accept it and even enjoy it if it’s done properly.
You can do the “petted” exercise as described in #3 above.
2. Make sure that your petting is gentle, not rough
Generally, dogs love gentle, round massage-like motions when being petted.
I can see my golden Riley almost melt like butter in my hands when massaging his ears. He almost instantaneously relaxes when I do it.
There are even books about how to touch and massage a dog. One is called the Tellington Touch (or T-Touch for short) discussed above.
Dogs like goldens who love being petted would really enjoy this.
3. Don’t hover over the dog when petting
Most dogs don’t like if you hover over them when petting. Doing so could be seen as a threat.
This is especially true if the dog is new to you. If you just got the dog or if he’s another person’s canine companion, go slowly with petting if the dog likes it.
But don’t bend and hover over the dog.
4. Praise your dog when he enjoys the petting
When your dog enjoys being petted, the petting itself is part of the positive reinforcement.
But you can also add verbal praise when petting.
How Should I Pet Other People’s Dogs?
Of course, if a dog is unknown to you, you’ll proceed differently than you would with your own dog.
Not all dogs may love being petted. And even those who do might not accept it from a stranger.
Always ask the owner whether you can pet the dog. You can also ask whether he enjoys being petted by strangers.
But remember that even if a dog likes being petted by some strangers, he may not like being petted by all strangers.
Evaluate the dog’s body language. If he seems stressed or unfriendly at all, don’t pet him.
Assess his overall body language using the bulleted measures stated above.
Of course, if he shows any aggression, walk away without petting him.
Prior to the pandemic, I would take all my dogs on regular excursions to pet stores and other places to socialize them to new people.
And I would actively ask people to pet them. My current dogs accept and enjoy the company of new people.
Most people were happy to oblige.
Assuming the dogs you meet want to be petted, follow the guidelines above and:
- Pet gently.
- Don’t hover.
- Don’t rush at the dog. Come in sideways and let the dog approach you.
- Don’t pet the top of the head.
- Pet the side of his face, ears, and chest if he enjoys that. You can ask his owner where he likes to be petted.
- Don’t pet for too long a period. Pet for maybe 10 to 15 seconds. If the dog really enjoys it, you can double that time.
What if My Normally Pet-Loving Dog Suddenly Hates It?
If your pup loved petting but now doesn’t, look at what’s happened to him in the interim.
1. Has he had any bad experiences with petting?
Determine whether any negative events have occurred while he’s been petted.
Has someone petted him too hard? Or rushed at him? Or did a scary event, like a dish crashing to the ground, occur when he was being petted?
If so, you can re-train him to like the petting he previously loved. You can use the “petting on cue” training exercise stated in #3 above.
2. Check out whether there’s a medical problem
If there’s no other problem you can pinpoint, there may be a problem that should be checked out by your vet.
He may be in pain or there may be another physical problem that must be addressed.
Note From Colby: Our friend’s Yorkie was attacked by a coyote and bit on his hind quarters. Ever since that experience if you got your hand anywhere near his rear end he’d start growling.
There are many reasons your golden may love to be petted. Most dogs love being petted gently and in certain areas on their bodies such as their ears and shoulders.
Make sure you’re in control of the situation so your dog has some impulse control.
If there’s any behavioral or medical reason your dog doesn’t like to be petted, get the appropriate professional help.
As far as strange dogs are concerned, get the owner’s permission before petting. And make sure first that the dog enjoys being petted by a stranger.
Does your Golden love to be petted? Our Raven sure does!
Tell us about your Golden Retriever in the comments below.
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