Make your pup's leg go bonkers with these sweet-spot scratches.
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man rubbing dogs chest
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The science doesn't lie—petting a dog is downright good for your health. The act releases happy hormones, reduces stress, and hello, who doesn't feel good when petting a happy pupper? To make the most of these happy moments, you might wonder where do dogs like to be pet? And more importantly, if the pupper in question wants to be pet.

Assuming the pup in mind has signaled the A-OK for affection via human touch, Annette Louviere, DVM at Wisdom Panel, says that petting your dog can be a form of communication between the two of you. "It's not so much the where but rather the way in which you are doing the petting that provides information—such as comfort, playfulness, or praise," she says.

Do Dogs Like Being Pet?

Not all dogs like to be pet, Louviere says. If you're unsure whether a dog would enjoy some hands-on love, always ask the owner first. Then, look out for these signs:

  • Ducking or moving the head away
  • Leaning away from being touched
  • Tension in the face, like a furrowed brow
  • "Whale eyes," or rounder eyes than typical with whites exposed
  • Licking lips
  • Growling

If a dog shows any of this body language, he's telling you "don't touch me, please."

Other pups love being pet and might reward you with a slobbery kiss. "Licking while being pet can be a sign of enjoyment and mutual affection," Louviere explains. But this shouldn't be confused with the stress reaction of a dog licking his lips.

So, why do some dogs like to be pet? Louviere says petting is a way for pups and humans to communicate with each other, like a "hello." Giving and receiving affection, like petting, is also a bonding experience for both parties. "Plus, receiving rubs and pets just feels good," Louviere adds. "So, there are plenty of reasons for dogs to enjoy the interaction when done properly."

How to Pet a Dog the Right Way

Diagram of the best places to pet a dog
Credit: Corinne Mucha

Melissa McMath Hatfield, MS, CBCC-KA, CDBC, owner of Loving Dogs in Fayetteville, Ark., says it's called a pet and not a pat for a reason. "Most dogs do not like the most common human pat, which is the pat, pat, pat on the head, but prefer a chest rub or a tickle under the chin," she says.

Before you go in for a trusty chin scratch, a proper introduction is due. "Never reach out and pet a dog without asking permission from the pet parent, especially if you and the dog are strangers," Hatfield says. Even if you do know each other, let the pup come to you and sniff around. If his body language is positive (soft eyes, a slightly open mouth, and a wiggly-looking body), then you can slowly engage in petting.

Once you get a tail wag, Louviere has some suggestions on where dogs like to be pet and how.

  • Do rub and scratch the ears. "Dog ears are well supplied with nerves, so rubbing and scratching here will release endorphins and can help relax the dog," she says.
  • Do itch hard-to-reach spots like along the neck and under the collar.
  • Do scratch under the chin as well as along the neck, chest, and upper back. "If the dog is accepting, then they may offer other areas like the lower back near the base of the tail or even their belly," Louviere says.
  • Do check in with the dog's body language as you interact. Loose facial muscles and droopy ears are signs of enjoyment.
  • Do pause periodically to give the pup the chance to decide if he would like the petting to continue.
  • Avoid their groin and rear end. "Dogs will be protective of their private areas," Louviere says.
  • Avoid petting directly on the face, along the tail, and on the lower legs and feet.

Though these are a general rule, Hatfield reminds us that every pup is different and some might like being pet in certain areas more than others. "For some, their back may be off-limits due to arthritis or old injury," she says. Other pups find that their ears are much too sensitive for a friendly scratch. "They will tell you what they like. We just have to listen with our eyes."