Would You be Able to Pass a Petting Consent Test?

Many people assume that since dogs can’t verbally speak to us that they can’t communicate with us.  Just about any dog owner can tell you that isn’t true though.  Dogs have very clear communication methods.  Dogs communicate with us through actions and body language.  Humans just have to be capable of understanding and interpreting them.  I bet if your dog is hungry, he has no problem communicating that to you, does he?  But, did you know that a dog will tell you if he wants to be petted?   We will ask a dog’s owner if it is okay to pet their dog, but we rarely ask the dog if it is okay.  And if it is your dog, do you know when he doesn’t want to be petted?  Learning how to pass a petting consent test can prevent scaring a dog or even provoking a bite.  The wonderful people at Dogkind Training, LLC have created a great video that demonstrates how to read a dog to determine if he wants to be petted.  Read on to see if you would be able to pass a Petting Consent Test.

Let the Dog Come to You

A Petting Consent Test allows you to ask the dog, “What do you want?”  When you see a dog, rather than walking up to the dog and just asking the owner if you can pet the dog, stay where you are.  Still, ask the owner, but then allow the dog to come to you.  You should never approach an unfamiliar dog and try to pet him, regardless of what the owner says.  If you wait and let the dog approach you, this will give the dog the opportunity to say, “No, thank you.”  If a dog wishes to be petted, it will approach you.  If the dog maintains his position or turns away, it is a clear indication that he is not ready to be petted.  When attempting to see if a dog wishes to be petted, do not lure the dog with treats.  A treat may draw the dog closer to you but is not necessarily an indication that he wishes to be petted.  He may simply be more interested in the treat than he is in the possible danger you may represent.

Observe Body Language

Once the dog has approached you, observe his body language.  If he approaches you, but appears fearful or is holding his body stiffly, he is not ready to be petted.  Do not try to pet him.  But if he approaches you with a loose, wiggly body, leans into you or nudges you, you can attempt a petting consent test.  A dog may not always appear enthusiastic when they approach you, but as long as they are not displaying fear and are not holding themselves stiffly, then you can attempt a petting consent test.  If a dog displays fearful body language such as pinned ears, stiff body, tail lowered or tucked do not attempt to reach for the dog and do not attempt a petting consent test.  

Attempt a Petting Consent Test

To perform a petting consent test, reach for the dog and attempt 1 – 2 pets and then stop.  Many dogs do not like to have your hand out of their sight, so it is never a good idea to reach over a strange dog’s head to pet them.  It is best to pet them on their chest or neck, but depending on the dog, other areas may be fine as well.  For a dog that approaches you cautiously or fearfully, you can attempt a petting consent test by simply making a hand available to them.  Even fearful dogs can find touch comforting, but it is best to let a fearful dog make the decision rather than forcing the decision on them.  When you offer a hand to the dog, your hand should stay still and not move toward the dog.  Allow the dog to move into your hand instead.

Listen to the Dog’s Answer

After attempting a few pets, stop and listen to the dog’s answer.  Does the dog want petting right now?  A “no” answer can come in many forms.  No behavior change, nervous body behavior such as licking lips, turning away, looking away, or actually moving away are all an answer of “no”.  A positive response to the petting consent test should be unambiguous.  The dog should move closer to you, nudge your nose, lean into you, or in some other way indicate directly to you that they wish the petting to continue.  Even when a dog’s answer is yes, frequently stop petting and ensure that the answer is still yes.  A “yes” to petting can change to a “no”.  A dog that initially may have been soliciting pets, may have lost interested and no longer wish to be petted.  

Taking the time to learn petting consent tests do pay off.  You will find that you are more in tune not only with other dogs that you meet, but you may learn to better understand your own dog.  Petting consent tests are especially good lessons for children to learn and can prevent many unwanted scuffles between your dog and your children.  Being able to recognize a dog’s preference and respect his answer can keep you safer in the long run and definitely will make the dog happier.  Thank you to Dogkind Training for the great information, and to see their video and view actual examples of the behaviors, please watch their video on youtube https://youtu.be/-hsOlJwMwps.