Here’s a simple thing you can do to build a happier relationship with your dog — and it may just surprise you!

Woman hugging her dog
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It can be difficult to resist stroking and petting our dogs – particularly because it’s easy to assume that they’re always in the mood to be fussed over. 

But, maybe your dog doesn’t want to be petted at that time. Maybe they’re tired and would like to be left alone to snooze, or to play with one of the best dog toys alone, or perhaps they’re just not in the mood. 

It’s important to give your pup some of that choice back – something that expert trainer Nikki Mather, the founder of Positive Steps Dog Training, has discussed in a recent Instagram post. 

“Our dogs tolerate A LOT,” Mather explains. “The least we can do is give them some of their choice back when possible!”

What she suggests trying is stroking your dog for a few seconds before stopping. Wait to see if your pup moves toward you to ask for more. She continues, “If they do nothing or move away, they’ve probably had enough!”

Consider that dogs will often have favorite places to be petted, too, and favorite people to be petted by. For example, your dog might be happy to be petted on the top of the head by most people pretty much all the time, but only roll over for belly rubs for you – and only sometimes. 

And when it comes to hugging our dogs, it’s important to remember that hugging is not always a positive interaction in dog body language. Hugs can be intimidating and restraining for dogs. Your dog might enjoy hugs from you and others in your household, but might find them uncomfortable from other people. 

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your pup’s body language, particularly when they’re around people they don’t know as well, and even more so when children are interacting with them. If your dog is happy to be petted, as well as moving toward you they might nudge their head into you, paw your hand, flop onto you, or just initiate the physical touch themselves. Look at their face too – particularly their mouth and eyes – and if they’re relaxed and droopy, that’s another good sign. 

If your dog isn’t happy to be petted, you might see them looking or leaning away from you. They might turn their head away, yawn, or lick their lips. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to respect your dog’s boundaries and give them some space. They might well come back looking for cuddles in a little while!

If you and your dog are in the mood to play, you might find this advice useful: How to play with a dog: Enjoy safe and fun bonding time with your pup.

Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering pets, lifestyle, health and culture, and he has six years' experience in journalism. He was senior editor at, and has written for The Independent, GoodToKnow and Healthline

He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' golden retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.