Most dog owners will likely find it somewhat strange to think they need instructions on how to pet a dog. After all, how much is there to it? You just pet him, right?

Not so fast.

Turns out, many dog owners have likely been petting their dogs and other people’s dogs the wrong way their entire lives. Here’s what you need to know:

According to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, dogs don’t like to be petted on their heads or paws and responded with what are known as “appeasement” gestures by licking their lips and yawning. Their heart rates also became elevated when the paws or head was petted.

When the dogs were stroked at the base of the tail, the shoulders and base of the neck or chest they were the least stressed. 

For dogs, seeing a hand come near their heads or faces may be perceived as threatening.

Of course, your dog may react differently and may tolerate or even enjoy being petting in areas that make other dogs stressed out.

Plus, don’t assume that just because a dog is showing you his belly that he wants a belly rub. This may just be a posture of submissiveness.

Always allow a strange dog to approach you and make contact first. You can try puting out your hand for the dog to sniff. If he sniffs and walks away, then assume he’s not interested. If he nudges your hand then try gently petting one of the preferred petting zones.

And as much as humans love hugs, dogs as a rule really don’t. Your personal dog might tolerate them but never attempt to hug a strange dog.

Whether it’s your dog or a strange dog, always be on the lookout for signs of stress: laid back ears, looking away, yawning and licking his lips. If any of these occur, quit petting him and back off.

Petting a dog should be therapeutic for the both of you and not stressful.

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