Each afternoon when my husband and I arrive home from work, our two dogs, Angel and Bunker, let us know we were missed.
As we walk in the door, Angel begins her “welcome back” barking (all the while jumping up on our legs) in the hopes of getting petted. Then Bunker will become part of the welcoming committee, chiming in with his “howdy do.”
Not only do pets become family members, showing us love in their own unique ways, but they also look to us to return that love, often through petting. Dogs and cats love getting attention from people and look forward to those petting sessions they so richly deserve.
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Ah, There’s the Rub
An article in the USA Weekend magazine stated that petting a dog causes a chain reaction of signals to our brains, making us feel happy. Some doctors even believe that canines are a better anti-anxiety medicine than the drug Prozac.
Oxytocin, sometimes called the “cuddle hormone,” kicks into high gear when we are petting a dog. This hormone decreases the levels of cortisol (a hormone that pertains to stress and anxiety) while it helps reduce blood pressure. Oxytocin also triggers feelings of trust and happiness.
According to results of an experiment conducted by two biologists at the Azuba University in Japan, owners who played with their dogs and made eye contact with them for more than two and a half minutes had a 20% increase in oxytocin levels. Meanwhile, owners who spent a half-hour in a room with their dog, but had no eye contact with them, showed a slight drop in hormone levels.
One of the biologists believes that oxytocin could have been an important factor in the domestication of dogs from wolves over 15,000 years ago.
Best Places to Pet a Cat
Since all cats (or dogs) are not carbon copies, each individual is bound to have personal preferences. But rest assured, there are a few spots on their bodies where they all seem to enjoy being petted.
To be sure your cat reaps the greatest satisfaction during petting sessions, focus on her favorite areas:
- Under the chin petting usually feels so good to kitty that she will begin purring almost immediately. Simply take your index finger and stroke the bottom of her chin.
- Between the eyes is an ideal petting spot for most cats. As you use one finger, gently stroking from the top of the nose, up between the eyes to the top of the face, you will notice kitty’s eyes slowly closing as the contented purring begins.
- If your cat allows you to pet her on her stomach and chest, this is a sign that she trusts you.
- The top of the tail could turn out to be your kitty’s most loved place to be petted. Although some cats may not prefer tail petting, many enjoy being stroked on their back above where the top of their tail joins their body.
- Behind the ears seems to be THE place to pet on cats. While some like a little light ear scratching, others enjoy a more vigorous scratch. Test your cat to see which scratch she prefers — her sleepy-looking eyes and gentle purrs will clue you in.
Best Places to Pet a Dog
Let’s start with one piece of advice about petting puppies: Gently massaging a new puppy’s mouth and gums will not only be a show of love on your part; it will bring a fresh blood supply to the area.
Massaging will also get him used to having his mouth handled, making things a little easier for both of you when dental issues arise. Puppies also welcome foot massages, which may help make future nail trimmings a little less frightening.
Dogs generally have their favorite “go to” petting spots on their body too. Their preferences range from belly rubs, neck, shoulder and head petting to back scratches. There are a few “do nots” you should know when trying to determine a dog’s favorite petting spot:
- Do not try to pet an unfamiliar dog immediately after being introduced. Allow him to smell your hand, then stroke him gently around his ears.
- Do not try to pet a dog while he is barking. You may get bitten.
- Do not look a dog right in the eyes. To doggies, this means you are possibly aggressive. Also, lay off the sunglasses, which make it tough for the pet to determine if you are friend or foe.
- Do not pet a dog you do not know. Even friendly dogs will bite out of fear.
- Do not jerk your hand back every time the dog’s nose touches you. Even though you may mean this to be a playful gesture, the dog may see it as an aggravation toward him.
Both of my pets are very much into the petting craze. The preferred spot for Angel, a Chihuahua, is what I refer to as “old-fashioned” petting. She loves it when we start at the top of her head and work our way down her back. Bunker, our pit bull, is totally opposite. He likes rolling over on his back in anticipation of a good belly rub.
If you haven’t discovered your dog or cat’s favorite place to be petted yet, don’t give up. Your pet is sure to enjoy the random pettings and scratchings as you seek to please him.
Just for giggles, here’s a set of funny “petting charts” for a dog and a cat (click to enlarge):