Nothing solidifies the bond between dog and owner like a good petting session. Those precious moments of physical touch bring you and your dog closer together and strengthen the love you share.
For us, it’s a type of closeness that we don’t get from very many people. We don’t usually pet our friends or families, but dogs are a different story, and that physical touch feels good for both parties.
From head scratches to belly rubs to full-body massages, your dog just can’t get enough of being petted. But just what is it about this type of contact that’s so irresistible to them?
Get cozy — we’re about to find out why dogs love petting so much.
Hormonal Happiness: Why Petting Makes Your Dog Feel Good
We think of hormones as the things that make teenagers crazy and parents bond with their babies, but they do so much more than that. And they’re a big part of why dogs love being petted.
One hormone in particular, oxytocin, floods the brain during physical touch. Oxytocin is the hormone of love: it makes us feel good, drives us to be kind and instills a feeling of deeper connection.
And it’s produced in spades when you pet your dog — in both your brain and his.
Petting also releases endorphins, which activate the opiate receptors in the brain. These receptors are responsible for pain relief and, when activated, cause feelings of euphoria and overall well-being.
You and your dog both experience endorphin release during a petting session. That’s why you occasionally get that overwhelming feeling of love and affection when you’re petting him — and why he seems to experience it, too.
Part of why your dog loves pettings is because of those feel-good hormones that are released during physical contact. And that love only gets stronger as time goes on.
How Petting Makes Your Dog Feel
Have you ever touched somebody — a friend, family member or loved one — and, upon doing so, felt a stronger sense of empathy towards them? Did their reaction to your touch communicate more about how they were feeling at the time?
Touch communicates a lot more than we realize. The amount of pressure, the type of movement and the length of contact all convey important information about our moods, mental states, and feelings towards the other person.
And there’s reason to believe that it’s much the same with dogs.
Dogs are incredibly empathetic towards humans. When you’re sad, your dog knows to come and comfort you, and when you’re happy, he’ll bounce around the house in good spirits with you.
So when you pet him, chances are you’re sharing your emotions with him through touch, and vice versa. That emotional vulnerability brings you closer together and makes petting feel good both on and beneath the surface.
Petting Communicates a Sense of Security
Dogs, like humans, enjoy feeling stable and secure. They like being able to rest easy knowing that their homes and their people will be there for them.
Petting reinforces those feelings of stability and boosts your dog’s confidence in your relationship. It lets him know that you love him and you’re not going anywhere.
That’s part of why he gets sad when you’re too busy or distracted to pet him. It’s not just the physical pleasure he’s after — it’s the reassurance of you touch and reaffirmation of the strength of your bond.
After all, it doesn’t feel good when your loved ones ignore you. It makes you wonder if you did something wrong or upsetting, or if your relationship with them is on the rocks.
But a big hug or an arm around your shoulder is all it takes to remind you that it’s all good. And to your dog, petting communicates the same thing.
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What the Research Shows
Research suggests that petting your dog has actual, tangible health benefits for both of you. And not just psychological ones, either, but physical ones, too.
One study shows that petting your dog reduces his heart rate, which is part of why a good petting session always seems to calm him down when he’s riled up.
And these findings correspond with what we already know about the effects petting has on us. When we pet our dogs, our heart rates drop, along with our blood pressures and pain responses.
So it stands to reason that when you pet your dog, his blood pressure and pain levels drop as well. These contribute to a feeling of deep relaxation, so it’s no wonder that dogs seem so blissful when they’re being petted!
So next time you pet your dog, take comfort in the knowledge that it’s making him feel as good as it’s making you feel.
"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two."
-- Phil Pastoret