Why Some Dogs Don’t Like to Be Touched: Understanding Their Preferences
Many people who dream of bringing a dog into their family imagine greeting their new four-legged friend by petting them hello every morning and spending nights cuddling with them on the couch. This is the reality with many dogs, but there are some who are less interested in getting petted or snuggling with their humans.
For owners who face this reality, the first instinct is often to question what they’re doing wrong, or wonder if there’s an underlying medical issue at play. Experts say it’s important to first rule out a medical issue by assessing the dog for an injury or illness, and taking them to see their vet if there appears to be a serious problem or if the issue persists.
The Role of Personal Preferences
There are many other reasons that could explain why a dog doesn’t want to be touched, but pet behavior experts say it often comes down to the dog’s personal preferences—in the moment and in general. Dogs don’t naturally enjoy being touched by humans, though many come to enjoy human touch over time, according to the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Interest in and enjoyment of human touch depend on the dog, according to the pet food company Hill’s Pet Nutrition. Like some people, not every dog likes to be touched. Instead, dogs that don’t like to be petted may prefer going on walks or playing with their humans, activities that dogs can interpret as displays of affection.
Understanding a Dog’s Body Language
Some dogs may love to be petted one moment but want nothing to do with human touch the next. The dog’s body language will typically indicate whether they want to be touched or not, according to Judy Rapp Moore, a certified dog behavior consultant and the president and owner of Canine Behavior Consulting LLC.
To gauge a dog’s interest in being touched, the owner can try petting them a couple of times before stopping and leaning away. If the dog leans toward them, it’s a sign they want to be touched. If the dog instead leans away or shakes, it’s an indication that they prefer not to have human touch in that moment, according to a Canine Behavior Consulting blog post.
The Type of Touch Matters
The type of touch also plays a role. Dogs don’t typically like things that come at them from above and thus often don’t enjoy head pats, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). If a dog ducks from an incoming hand, leans or steps away, or shows other signs that they’re anxious or uncertain—such as showing the whites of their eyes or putting their ears back—the AKC says this means they don’t want to be touched.
Factors That Influence a Dog’s Preference for Human Touch
Dogs’ human touch preferences often seem to boil down to how they’re feeling in the moment and their general preferences for getting petted. But behavior experts say a preference for or distrust of humans can also play a role. Adopted dogs can be less open to human touch if they’ve had a negative experience with humans before, according to Hill’s Pet Nutrition. Young puppies also may resist human touch if they’re not used to it yet. Meanwhile, adult dogs in large families may prefer accepting petting from one human over others if a strong bond has developed.
Overall, understanding a dog’s preferences for human touch can help owners create a more harmonious bond with their furry friends. It’s important to respect a dog’s boundaries and find other ways to show affection if they don’t enjoy being touched. Remember, each dog is unique, and by observing their body language and catering to their preferences, we can ensure their happiness and well-being.
Newsweek reached out to dog behavior consultants with the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior for comment.