7 ways that dogs interpret different forms of human petting

Here are 7 suggestions on how dogs interpret different types of petting by their human caregiver which gives them pleasure for reasons sometimes unknown to the caregiver.

Why do dogs like their chests scratched?

Why do dogs like their chests scratched? Photo: Tony Alter on Flickr who says this about the photo: “Frank waiting for one of his many scratchings – he stands up on my knee and paws at me until I scratch him.”

  1. Scratching a male dog’s chest between the forelegs is pleasing to him because it feels like he is mating with a female by mounting her and his chest is rubbing against the back of the female. This is an association that dogs have between certain human petting actions and actions that happen in their more natural world. In the words of Desmond Morris PhD, scratching a dog’s chest rings pleasure bells in the back of the dog’s mind.
  2. Tickling or scratching behind the ears reminds the dog of ear-licking, sniffing and nibbling during canine courtship and is therefore pleasurable too.
  3. When a dog’s owner gently pushes their dog away playfully it is exciting for their dog. The dog interprets this as a play-fight and will leap forward for more. If the owner gently grabs their dog by the jaw they interpret it as a playful bite and will want to return the pleasure which is fine provided it is gentle too.
  4. A common type of petting is to pat a dog. It is a human-to-human action and people believe that dogs like it as humans do. It will not surprise people to know that dogs do not pat each other on the back. They interpret it as a submissive nug. An action that is carried out by (1) puppies on their moms and (2) subordinate dogs on dominant dogs. Therefore, when the dominant ‘dog’ (the human caregiver) does it, it is interpreted as a reassurance display. When top dogs want to reassure inferior dogs, they approach with a mock display of submission.
  5. If a dog owner likes to stroke their dog because they have a silky, close lying coat that feels nice, the dog remembers their early days with their mom when she licked them and therefore it is pleasurable.
  6. When children cuddle dogs for their pleasure dogs interpret this as the time when they littermates cuddling and clumping up together in the early years of their life. Or it is a reminder of when their mother wrapped around them. Once again, the interpretation normally brings pleasure.
  7. Many dogs enjoy having the sides of their face rubbed. Humans are performing a comfort action that the dog would do for themselves when they rub the sides of their head against an object to alleviate a mild irritation. Dogs appreciate the assistance.

The full bath and blow dry imposed on show dogs is tolerated and not enjoyed as there is no equivalent in the grey wolf’s life except that it feels as if they are being mildly bullied by the top dog!

Source: Dr Desmond Morris Illustrated DOGWATCHING.

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