What is the difference between petting and patting a dog

Dogs are social creatures and would demand your attention on a daily basis. Dogs typically enjoy the right touch from their owners but sometimes, most dog owners find themselves puzzling if their dog wants a pat or a pet. As it is often the case with imprecise questions, we have mixed answers.

Petting and patting a dog

Taking a critical view at the question, it is absolutely clear that all dogs are receptive to touch. Patting is thumping the dog in a repetitive series especially on the head, while petting is stroking the dog gently with your fingers in an affectionate manner.

To pet is to stroke, and sometimes it is even called stroking. It is to touch with long soft strokes smoothing the fur. To pat is to tap, or touch quickly and gently on the head with the flat of the hand to give a soft thump.

The implication is that patting is usually done to calm or assure an animal but petting is done to make it feel gratified or pleasured.

Patting is often a subset of petting and most dogs do not like it, especially if it is a thump on their head. It could be used as a reward of a job well done by dog handlers in a detective work or dog agility handlers when a dog finishes a course.

From a dog’s trainer perspective, stroking with long firm pressure relaxes and calms a dog. So if you’re needed to calm a fearful or hyper active dog, you pet it to relax it.

Here’s another example for more clarity. If you drop your dog off at the vet or with your friend, ( it is not advisable to have dramatic farewells, since they increase it’s anxiety about being left, a short one could boost it’s confidence ), a pat might be a better way to describe such short goodbye, a brief contact with the dog.

But on the other hand, after a long day at work or you picked it up from the vet, you might want to indulge in 30 minutes of petting which may include snuggling, belly rubs, nuzzles or all sorts of protracted affection.

Other differences between a pat and a pet.

Sometimes, both can mean the same thing and what only differentiates them could just be it’s use in speech, or it being used as a verb. For example, in American English if you say you patted a dog, people could think you are making a point to say you literally patted the dog with a up and down movement of your flat hand, like a thump. But petting in speech, could mean a variety of things from patting to snuggles to belly rubs.

In essence, Americans “pet” their dogs. The English, Australians and New Zealanders “pat” their dogs.

Raising it’s paw in response to your pettings. What does it mean?

While petting your dog most times, it might response by raising it’s paw. Dogs are expressive animals and years living with humans, they have learnt to mimick some human body language.

So while you are petting your dog and it raises it’s paws to your arms or legs, it is trying to pet you back. Most dogs cannot do the actual stroking, so laying their paw on you is a sign of affection and trust.

Other times, it could also mean they are trying to tell you to not stop whatever activity you are doing, especially if you have been petting him for several minutes and you stop. They are simply asking for more.

Do dogs love to be pet?

You have to understand why dogs are petted, because some dogs do not want it from a stranger. Petting a dog can be used to establish dominance between you and the dog. Most dogs are submissive towards humans so they move themselves under our hands as a sign to show submission and we keep telling them we are the dominant one by petting them.

My sense is that dogs can and will find petting pleasurable only if it is done by a person they trust and are familiar with, which could be their alpha in their pack or their owner. Putting a hand on their head could be a dominating and potentially agressive move, they may not appreciate it and might snap at you if you go ahead uninvited.

If the dog is a stranger to you, it will be safest not to touch it. Though the dog could initiate a request for contact by rubbing itself on your hand, then you should place your hand near it’s face so it can sniff you and learn what it can from your smell. This is an equivalent to a polite handshake among humans.


Physical contact of any kind can have multiple different meanings when it comes to animal to animal. Dogs are smart, though their behaviors are rooted in instinct and pack mentality. They obviously learn to modify their behavior as they spend more time with humans.

When you pet your dog, it’s more of a emotional or rather, psychological effect to dog and what they get out of it, so petting or scratching your dog in the right place could imply affection and contended with the particular role, they are playing in your life.

Related Information.

Where can I pet my dog?

Dogs prefer that you pet them in a select number of places. The hind legs and front shoulders, below their chins, on their cheeks and flanks. They prefer massages over their bellies and like to be scratched between their ears also.

Also, pet from the side and not above as you are trying to establish care and not dominance. However you can encourage them to lie on their backs and then pet their belly, stroking from the hind leg to their rib cage. Massaging their belly is usually relaxing for dogs and this allows them to poop better.