Think your dog lives for nose smooches and belly rubs? Not even close. Here’s what your dogs really, really enjoy (and what they hate).
Pats, rubs, and butt scritches (and skip the hugs)
Dogs are love-sponges when it comes to physical affection, but there is one point where they draw the line: hugging. Being wrapped in a warm embrace actually makes them feel anxious, according to one (slightly controversial) study in Psychology Today. That’s just one of 50 secrets pets want you to know. “While we may think it’s sweet and comforting, pets often feel trapped and scared during hugs, particularly when humans pull pets into their faces,” explains Erin Askeland, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, a pet behaviorist and training manager at Camp Bow Wow.
Your dirtiest, stinkiest, sweatiest clothes
Your dog’s favorite smell in the whole world is… you. And the more of your body odor on something, the better—as evidenced by the number of times dogs have embarrassingly dragged out their owner’s dirty underwear. “Dogs have much stronger noses than ours, and for them, a shirt covered in your scent is one of the most comforting objects in the world,” says Meg Marrs, a dog care expert and senior editor at K9 of Mine. “Next time your dog is anxious about being left alone or is staying at a kennel, leave them with that sweaty shirt you wore to hot yoga.” And perhaps you should take a quick whiff too, as your body odor can tell you important things about your health.
Toys of their very own
Just like you love your things, dogs really like to have things that belong exclusively to them, says April Olshavsky, AKC-accredited Canine Good Citizen Evaluator and Certified Trainer. This includes their food bowls, dog bed, and especially their toys. What about when your things suddenly become their things? “When a dog chews up your shoe, he may be trying to tell you he needs more toys or attention,” she says.
A challenging puzzle to solve
When you’re considering what toys to get your pup, include a puzzle toy that involves a challenge followed by a reward, Marrs says. Or try one of these six ways to keep your dog busy (and away from your shoes) while you’re at work. “Dogs are desperate for mental stimulation, and they’ll act out if they are bored,” she says. “How would you feel if you had to sit at home all day with nothing to do? It might even drive you crazy enough to start tearing open pillows.”
No outfits, please
Doggy couture may be adorable but pups hate being dressed up, says Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA, author of Considerations for the City Dog. “Many dogs hate the feel of wearing clothes and they really don’t need additional clothing for warmth,” she says. The one exception: Using a dog coat or special blanket when you take short-haired or small dogs for a walk outside when the temps drop below freezing. Plus, this will help you save some cash in the long run—do you know how much owning a dog really costs you?
Chest rubs, not belly rubs
The idea that dogs love a good belly rub is based on outdated dominance theories, says Sara Taylor, CPDT-KA, director of animal behavior and training at the spcaLA. “A lot of dogs roll over to be submissive, which shows insecurity and fear, and it is not a good time to rub the belly of a dog,” she explains. “As trainers, we only pet the belly when the dog is familiar to us, is initiating this contact for petting purposes, and is not scared or fearful.” Most dogs prefer a good chest rub to a belly rub any day, McCue-McGrath adds.
A nice, peaceful nap in a quiet spot
You may think your dog can sleep anywhere, anytime, but just because they can sleep through a six-year-old’s birthday party doesn’t mean they like it, Askeland says. And they definitely don’t like being awakened by a herd of said six-year-olds. In fact, startling your dog out of a deep sleep can make them grouchy or even aggressive.
To check their “pee-mail”
It may not be your jam, but sniffing every dirty, smelly thing around is one of your pup’s favorite activities, McCue-McGrath says. “When you take a walk, let them check their ‘pee-mail,’ catch up on all the changes in the neighborhood, or see what wild critter skittered by,” she says. “Dogs see the world through their noses and love nothing more than when we give them time to sniff instead of rushing on walks.” It’s good for you too: taking your dog on a long, meandering walk is a nearly effortless way to get some exercise.
For you to be their fearless leader
“Most dogs are not born leaders and they do not want to be in charge of anything, so they look to you to give them the structure they need,” says Andrew Horan, owner of Citizen K9. If you fail to be the leader by setting the schedule, providing consistent rules, and giving loving feedback, they’ll try and step in, which can cause serious behavioral issues, he adds.
A consistent, predictable routine
“Dogs appreciate routine, and it can be difficult for them to adjust to abrupt schedule changes, even just going from a weekday to weekend,” Askeland says, adding this can lead to behavior problems like chewing, barking, digging, or other destructive behaviors. “Try to wake up, take them out, feed them and exercise them at the same time every day,” she recommends.
No more human kisses
Think your dog loves your playful kisses on their snoot because they “kiss” you back? It turns out that when your dog licks your face and neck in response to your kiss, they’re really asking you to let them go, Taylor says. (Not to mention this really scary reason you should stop letting your dog lick your face.) “Dogs hate to be kissed or have a human put their face close for any reason,” she explains. “This is very intimidating behavior for a dog to accept and can lead to aggressive behavior.”
Soothing, positive (sounding) words
Dogs can’t really understand the words you’re saying but they sure can understand the tone of your voice and your expressions, Olshavsky says. So yelling at your dog won’t help them understand you better, it will just make them upset or it may even cause them to start barking, thinking you are trying to play a loud voice game with them.
The same tasty, nutritious dog kibble
Humans love variety when it comes to our food but that is not a trait dogs share, no matter how interested they appear in your dinner, Askeland says. Instead of constantly rotating them through flavors and brands, find one they like and stick with it, she suggests. You can always give them small treats at other times for a little surprise.
To be left alone by strangers
“This is a hard one for many dog owners to hear, but the truth is not all dogs want to be petted by strangers,” Marrs says. This means you need to protect your dog’s personal space from well-meaning folks and respect strange dogs’ wishes when you approach them. Not sure what a dog wants? Kneel down to their level and hold your hand out; if they approach you, give them a pet under their chin, not on the head, she advises. If they don’t? Leave them alone. This is just one of many etiquette rules all dog owners need to know.
Consistent praise and correction from you
Dogs like to know what’s expected of them and what they can expect from you, so they crave consistency with the house rules, Askeland says. “Often humans don’t realize they are giving dogs mixed signals about appropriate behavior and this confuses dogs,” she explains. “If you don’t want your dog to jump up on you, then you should never pet them when they jump up.” Dogs love consistency, in everything!
Gentle petting (just not on the head)
Contrary to popular belief, dogs really do not like to be petted on the head, Olshavsky says. “Most will tolerate it from their pet parents but even the most playful dog will often lean away from a hand coming toward their face,” she explains. “If you want to touch a dog, the best place to do it is on their back or just above the tail.” It’s especially important to teach this rule to children, she adds.
A loving glance
When it comes to attention, dogs can’t seem to get enough of it, but there is one type they really don’t enjoy. “Dogs hate sustained eye contact, it makes them feel uncomfortable and pressured,” McCue-McGrath says. So feel free to adore your dog and stare lovingly at them, just don’t stare deeply into their eyes for long. Bonus: That loving connection with your dog has major health benefits for you.
New friends… from a distance
Meeting new friends, both of the human and canine variety, can be wonderfully exciting for many dogs—but only if done in the right way. Dogs see their home as their territory, so bringing guests in and expecting your dog to immediately make nice may leave him or her frightened or angry, Askeland says. Instead, do slow, calm introductions in a neutral place and never force your dog to “make friends,” she adds.
For you to be happy
Above all else, there is nothing more important to your dog than your happiness—this selfless love is one of the reasons you adore your pup so much! Because of this, they can be very sensitive to your emotions, Olshavsky says. “Your dog can easily read body language and emotion, so don’t be surprised if your dog acts differently when you’ve had a bad day at work,” she explains. “Similarly, when you smile at your dog, he understands that too.” Curious as to why?