Training Tip Tuesday – Consent Based Petting

TRAINING TIP TUESDAY – consent based petting

By: Margaux Meyer

Today’s #trainingtiptuesday is about consent-based petting!! Consent-based petting is a small addition to normal attention and petting on a dog that encourages dogs to be in touch with their feelings and humans to be more aware of what a dog needs. Consent based petting can help you become more in tune with dogs needs and help build confidence in dogs.
Just like people, dogs don’t always want physical attention, and sometimes change their mind while being petted. Think of it like a person receiving a hug — sometimes hugs are great, and other times they’re a little uncomfortable for the person. Its not always easy as a human to know how to gracefully decline or end a hug — and dogs experience that same feeling.
Consent based petting is for every dog all of the time, and can help build trust between a dog and all people. Before petting your dog, reach out your hand and ask “do you want pets”. Pay attention to the dog’s body language and respond appropriately. If they don’t want pets, that’s okay! You can tell them they’re such a good dog and verbally praise them while leaving them alone. Below is a list of YES behaviors and NO behaviors.
If they do want pets, still be sure to check in with the dog while you’re petting them. Going back to the hug analogy — sometimes a hug goes on too long and it feels awkward or uncomfortable to get out of it. While you’re petting the dog, take a few second break and move your hand away while saying “Do you want more pets???”, and watch for the dog to say they want more attention.
Dogs Saying “Yes” I Want More Attention
  • The dog moves closer in
  • The dog nudges the hand
  • You observe relaxed eyes, mouth
  • Loose body and tail, slow tail wags
  • Soft eyes looking at you
Dog Says “No” I Don’t Want More Attention
  • Dog makes no behavior change, or completely freezes. You might observe that the dog stands or sits still after petting, disengaged.
  • The dog physically moves away.
  • lip licking
  • head turns
  • full body turns
  • moving away by shifting weight to the back or avoiding the hand
  • Dog avoids eye contact.
Consent based petting is important to help build confidence in dogs, encourage positive behavior with all people, and can reduce the risk of dog bites. If a dog knows petting will end, then they are less likely to get uncomfortable.
Note: a dog snuggling is not always an indication that they want pets. Often dogs want to be in the same space and close to you, but don’t necessarily want to be petted. An example would be sitting on the couch watching a movie with a romantic partner. You might be happy to sit on the couch and share a blanket, but you don’t necessarily want them to put their feet on your lap.
This video is a great example on how to start consent based petting:
Blog and graphic by Margaux Meyer, one of Ruff Start Rescue’s volunteer trainers, who focus on supporting our fosters and helping create successful dogs. She owns and operates A Better Walk Dog Training (