Many dogs don’t like being touched or petted on the top of the head. All it takes is a quick internet search to see countless photos of dogs showing stressed body language while being patted on the head. Body language cues your dog might exhibit are: dodging, lowering his head, moving away, putting his ears back, licking his lips or whale’s eye (whites of eyes visible).
Humans seem to be willing to pat a dog on the head; this is probably for several reasons. A dog’s head is usually the closest part of the dog that we can reach. For some dogs, we don’t even have to bend down to reach our dog’s head. Humans seem to mimic this behavior of other humans. Think of a parent lovingly stroking their child’s hair. Kids can enjoy it, but most dogs don’t.
Humans can also be quite rough when patting a dog on the head, and it may not be a pleasant experience for your dog. In addition to the fact that dogs don’t like something coming down towards them from above, most dogs quickly learn to associate a hand held up to their head with discomfort or stress. This leads many dogs to become shy and learn to stand back with an outstretched hand.
This can be awkward when you have to follow your dog across the room to put on its leash, or even downright dangerous if you need to grab your dog in an emergency and it wanders away from you.
But the good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to prevent head shyness and even give your dog a positive association with someone who tends toward his head.
Don’t Let Strangers Pet Your Dog’s Head
Most dogs are comfortable being petted or clawed on the chest, chin or back. Please ask other people to pet your dog in these areas. If that’s not possible, try turning your dog to face you, which presents his back to the person who wants to pet him. You can do this by rewarding your dog with a treat each time you call his name and he turns to contact you. Do this for several weeks, making sure to practice in lots of different places inside and outside the house, then start weaning off the treats so you can use this technique on the go. At home, you’ll always want to practice touching your dog’s head, because you can’t be sure a stranger will follow your instructions to gently stroke rather than roughly pat.
Teach your dog that head patting is a good thing
The easiest way to do this is to use a clicker to click and then immediately treat each time you reach for your dog. Or, instead of a clicker, just say a quick, positive word of praise, like “yes,” then process.
Start by sitting on the floor or in a chair so you don’t overpower your dog and gradually move to a standing position. It’s a fun and easy game that most dogs pick up on very quickly. You can gradually increase the challenge by giving your dog a treat while reaching for his head and touching it, then tossing a treat away from you and waiting for your dog to come back to your outstretched hand before clicking and clicking. process again. This not only makes your dog comfortable with you reaching out to him, but also encourages him to come to an outstretched hand. This is great practice for your dog’s name response or recall! This training process is known as conditioning, which basically means that we change the way our dog’s brain processes a situation, in this case from negative to positive.
Check with a veterinarian
If head shy behavior is new or unusual to your dog, your dog may be sick or in pain. This is especially true for older dogs who may begin to develop arthritis or age-related pain.
Spend time conditioning yourself
If your dog is head scared, spend five minutes a day conditioning him to appreciate an outstretched hand to his head.
It takes a bit of time and effort initially, but you’ll be rewarded with a dog that’ll be happy you grabbed it and will even come running for an outstretched hand!