Ungewollte Berührung beim Hund

Contact as a reward for the dog: When, how and why


You love your dog and want to show him how much you appreciate him and how proud you are of his progress. Touch is a natural and intuitive way of expressing affection and praise. But have you ever wondered if your dog actually sees those touches as a reward? In this blog article we want to deal with the topic "touch as a reward for dogs" and show you when, how and why touch can be a reward for your four-legged friend - or not.

Understanding Canine Communication

In summary, the dominance theory in dog training is historical and based on observations of wolf packs. While the theory also had applications during World War II and in the context of Nazism, it is not uniquely linked to that era or ideology. Today the understanding of dog training has changed and non-violent methods are increasingly popular.

body language and communication 

at the dog

In order to better understand the importance of touch in the human-canine relationship, it is important to develop a basic understanding of canine communication. Dogs communicate primarily through body language and, to a lesser extent, vocalizations. They express their emotions, needs, and intentions through a variety of cues, such as tail movements, ear placement, body posture, facial expressions, and movements. Depending on the breed, these forms of communication are different and have to be interpreted differently. 

As a dog owner, it is your job to recognize your dog's signals individually and to interpret them correctly in order to be able to respond better to your dog's needs and wishes. Paying close attention to your dog's body language will help you figure out if he perceives a touch as rewarding or uncomfortable. To better understand your dog's signs of stress and relaxation, you can check out our blog on the subject stress in the dog read through or also appeasement signals learn to read better with your dog.

The role of touch in canine communication

While touch plays a central role in communication for us humans, it has a less important function for dogs. Dogs also use touch to communicate with each other, but to a lesser extent than body language. Gentle licking of lips and mutual personal hygiene correspond to what we understand as physical affection, but they occur much less frequently than other forms of communication. Touch can have different meanings for dogs depending on the situation and context - from affection and social contact to dominance or aggression.

It's important to note that dogs are generally more sensitive to touch than humans. You may find touch pleasant when it comes from a familiar person in a relaxed situation. Touching the same familiar person in another situation, such as walking, can be uncomfortable and undesirable for the dog. Unexpected or unwanted touches can be stressful or uncomfortable for dogs. Therefore, it is crucial to consider your dog's individual likes and dislikes and to pay attention to their cues before using touch as a reward. 

When is a touch a treat for the dog?

Positive associations and trust 

A touch can be a reward for the dog if it evokes positive associations and takes place in a relaxed, stress-free environment. If your dog trusts you and feels comfortable, a loving touch can strengthen his bond with you. As a rule, these forms of touching take place at home. Touch can be especially rewarding when your dog is relaxed and feels safe in their surroundings. This can be the case, for example, when you lie on the sofa together or go for a walk in a quiet environment. Dogs like cuddling times or contact lying with touch because the bonding hormone oxytocin is released during this time. Oxytocin not only promotes bonding, but also reduces stress. Outside, on the other hand, almost no dog perceives touching and stroking as rewarding or pleasant. This is because the dog's general arousal is higher outside and the touch is perceived as disturbing or even intrusive by the dog.

Hund und Mensch kuscheln
Dog enjoys human touch

Individual differences in dogs

Every dog ​​is an individual with their own likes and dislikes. Some dogs enjoy touch more than others and find it particularly rewarding. Pay attention to your dog's individual preferences and adjust your touches accordingly. For example, some dogs like to be rubbed on their stomachs, while others prefer to be petted on the head or behind the ears. Each dog has individual preferences, but there are some general areas where dogs often enjoy being petted and others that are less preferred or even found uncomfortable.

Areas where dogs often like to be petted:

  1. Neck and chest: Many dogs enjoy stroking the neck and chest areas, as these areas are often easily accessible and appear less threatening than, for example, the head.
  2. Buttocks and Base of Tail: Some dogs like to be scratched at the base of the tail as this is a difficult area for them to reach and scratching can be pleasurable.
  3. Behind the ears: The ears are a sensitive area for many dogs, but scratching at the base of the ears or behind the dogs is comfortable for them. However, be careful not to grab your ears too hard or deep to avoid injury.
  4. Sides and Back: The sides and back are also popular areas for petting for many dogs because they are easily accessible and less sensitive.

Areas that dogs are less fond of petting or may find uncomfortable:

  1. Head and muzzle: Probably the most common mistake is direct stroking on the head. Some dogs don't like being grabbed directly on the head or muzzle as this can come off as threatening or dominating. In such cases, it can be helpful to position the hand to the side or below the head.
  2. Paws: The paws are a delicate and vulnerable part of the body, which is why many dogs don't like being touched there. Some dogs can even react aggressively if you touch their paws.
  3. Stomach: Although many dogs enjoy having their stomach rubbed while lying on their back, for some dogs this posture can also be a gesture of submission. In such cases, they may feel vulnerable and uncomfortable when their stomachs are touched. If a dog offers you the stomach area voluntarily, you can scratch his stomach carefully. 

When is a touch not a reward for the dog?

In stressful situations

Touch cannot be a reward for your dog in stressful situations. Examples of such situations include noisy environments, unfamiliar places, or being around other dogs or people who may be unsettling to your dog. In these cases, touching may actually add to your dog's stress instead of calming him down.

  • Noisy Environments: Noise can be very stressful for dogs, especially if they are sensitive to noise. This can be the case, for example, with fireworks, thunderstorms or construction site noise. In such situations, touching as a reward may not do what it should and further confuse your dog instead of calming him down. Instead, try offering him a quiet retreat and patiently waiting for the noise to subside. 

  • Foreign Places: New places can be scary for dogs, especially if they involve a lot of unfamiliar smells, sounds, or people. In such situations, it is important to give your dog time and space to get used to the new environment. A touch could overwhelm him at this moment. Instead, give him the opportunity to explore and adapt at his own pace.

  • In the presence of other dogs or people: Some dogs are uncomfortable around other dogs or unfamiliar people. In such situations, touching can further stress your dog as he may feel cornered. Instead of touching him, give him enough space. 

  • vet visits: Vet visits can be stressful for many dogs. In this situation, touching can actually add to your dog's stress, especially if it's during an exam or treatment. Be sure to support your dog during the vet visit by reassuring him and calming him down, but avoid unnecessary touching that could further unsettle him.

Beschwichtigungssignal Hund
Unwanted touch in the dog

In case of pain or discomfort

If your dog is in pain or uncomfortable, touching him may be uncomfortable and not a reward. Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Injuries: If your dog has an obvious injury, such as a wound, cut, or bruise, avoid touching the affected area unnecessarily to avoid interfering with healing and causing your dog additional pain. Instead, give your dog space and time to heal and consult a veterinarian to make sure he's getting the right treatment.

  • Skin irritations: Skin irritations such as allergies, eczema or parasitic infestations can be very uncomfortable for your dog. In such cases, touching can further aggravate the irritation and cause additional stress. Be careful not to touch the affected areas and seek veterinary help if necessary to treat the source of the skin irritation.

  • Joint diseases: Dogs, especially older or larger breeds, can suffer from joint disorders such as osteoarthritis, which can cause pain and discomfort. Be careful not to touch or apply pressure to the affected joints, as this can increase the pain. Instead, support your dog by offering him a comfortable place to lie and by accommodating his needs.

Beschwichtigungssignal Hund
Unwanted touch in the dog

With activity

Probably the most common mistake we experience in dog training is when dogs are rewarded with petting for or during an activity outside. Almost no - but really no - dog that we were allowed to experience felt touch during training as positive. Dogs do not always like being touched during an active phase, such as recall or walking on the leash, as this can be distracting or uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. The interruption of the movement plays a major role here. During the recall phase, dogs are typically active and focused on their surroundings as well as their movement. A sudden touch can interrupt this activity, which can be irritating for the dog. Dogs have a natural need to roam freely, and an unexpected touch can interfere with that need. When the dog is focused on a specific task or instruction, touching it can disrupt its focus and make communication between dog and owner difficult.

Another important aspect is the uncertainty dogs can feel when touched during an active phase. Some dogs may find being touched unexpected or uncomfortable during an active phase, especially if they don't feel safe or can't anticipate the touch. 

Finally, when a dog is touched during an active phase such as recall, stress or overstimulation can play a role. If a dog is already excited or stressed, an extra touch can exacerbate their stress response or cause overstimulation. 

To avoid disturbing or alarming your dog during an active phase, such as recall, it is advisable to avoid touching unless necessary or desired by the dog. Pay attention to your dog's body language and cues to determine whether or not he is open to being touched in this situation.

Beschwichtigungssignal Hund
Unwanted touch in the dog

appeasement signals

Calming Signals or calming signals are behaviors that dogs use to reduce stress, avoid or de-escalate conflict, and to create a relaxed atmosphere. These signals can appear in communication with other dogs as well as with people. Here are some common calming signals dogs show during touches they don't want: 

  • Yawning: A dog may yawn to calm itself or others when feeling stressed or uncomfortable.
  • Lick muzzle or lick lips: Licking over the snout is usually referred to with the English term licking intention. Dogs lick their snouts or lips to relieve stress and create a relaxed environment.
  • Averting or avoiding eye contact: A dog may look away or avoid eye contact to prevent conflict and signal relaxation.
  • Move slowly or freeze: Slow movements or sudden freezes can serve as a calming signal to reduce tension and create a peaceful atmosphere.
  • Soothing Sniff: Dogs can suddenly start sniffing the ground intensely to relieve stress.
  • turn head: A dog may turn its head away to de-escalate and avoid the touch. 
  • raise paw: Some dogs raise a front paw.

How do you use touch as a reward effectively?

Touch can be an effective reward for your dog or can actively contribute to relaxation, such as with relaxation grip, if they are used correctly. It's important to cater to your dog's needs and preferences to create a positive experience. Here are some tips on how to use touch as a reward effectively:

  1. Find out what touches your dog prefers: Every dog ​​is unique and has different preferences when it comes to touch. Observe your dog closely and find out what kind of touch he finds pleasant. This can be, for example, stroking, scratching or gentle massaging. 

  2. Consider the right time: Choose the right time for the touch as a reward. Touches are especially pleasant for your dog when he is balanced. This is preferably at home. Make sure your dog is relaxed and receptive before you touch him. Avoid touching in stressful situations or when your dog is in pain, as there is no reward in these cases.

  3. Combine touches with other rewards: To increase the impact of touch as a reward, you can combine it with other positive reinforcers, such as treats, verbal praise, or toys. This way you teach your dog that touch is associated with pleasant experiences.

  4. Integrate touch into training: Touch can also be used as a reward during training to reinforce desired behaviors. Touch is in quiet workouts like that ceiling training, to the relaxation grip and other forms of balanced situations. This will help your dog make the connection between his behavior and the positive experience of the touch.

  5. Pay attention to your dog's body language: It's important to monitor your dog's body language and signals during touching. If he shows signs of stress or discomfort, you should stop touching him immediately. Learn to read your dog's signals correctly to ensure that touching remains a positive experience for him.

  6. Give your dog control: Allow your dog to decide for himself whether or not he wants a touch as a reward. If your dog seeks the touch or approaches you, it is a sign that he will accept it as a reward. However, don't force your dog to touch you if he refuses or is uncomfortable.

By following these tips and paying attention to your dog's needs and signals, you can use touch as an effective reward and strengthen your bond. Remember that patience and empathy are key to better understanding your dog and providing them with a comfortable and safe environment.

Alternatives to touch as a reward

Although touch can be an effective reward for dogs, there are times when it may not be appropriate or desirable. In such cases, you have a number of alternatives to reward your dog and encourage positive behavior. Here are some examples:

Verbal Lob

Verbal praise is a simple yet effective way to reward your dog. Kind words and a positive tone of voice can help your dog recognize that he has done something right. Make sure your praise immediately follows the desired behavior so your dog can make the connection. A simple "Well done!" or "Yes sir!" can be a great reward for your dog.

Treats and food rewards

Treats and food rewards are very popular with many dogs and can be great motivators to encourage desired behavior. Choose healthy, tasty treats that are appropriate for your dog and be sure to use them in moderation to avoid obesity. Always vary the treats and make sure to leave them out regularly so that your dog does not take it for granted. 

toys and activities together

Toys and activities together can serve as rewards for your dog and strengthen your bond. They are particularly suitable if your hung was previously active, e.g. when calling back. Reward your dog by giving them their favorite toy or engaging in a group activity like fetch or a tug. This type of reward can be particularly effective if your dog has a high need for play or exercise. Remember that play should always take place in a positive, controlled manner and you should stop the activity if your dog becomes overly agitated or stressed.

By addressing your dog's individual needs and preferences and using different reward methods, you can create an effective and varied training environment. This not only encourages desired behavior, but also strengthens the relationship between you and your dog.

Vitomalia's conclusion

Proper use of touch as a reward for dogs can play an important role in building a strong bond between you and your dog and encouraging desired behaviors. It is crucial to address your dog's individual needs and preferences to ensure that the touch is actually perceived as a reward.

Make sure to monitor your dog's body language and signals, and avoid touching them in stressful, active, or painful situations. In such cases, you have many alternatives, such as verbal praise, treats, toys, or activities together, to reward and motivate your dog.

A need-based reward tailored to your dog's preferences can make training more effective and strengthen the bond between you and your dog. By being patient and listening to your dog's cues, you provide a positive, motivating, and understandable learning environment in which to thrive.

What are the signs that my dog ​​doesn't like a touch as a reward?

If your dog is showing signs of stress such as yawning, panting, restless, flinching, or reassuring signals, he may not like the touch as a reward.

When should I not offer my dog ​​touch as a reward?

Avoid touching as a reward in active or stressful situations, in the presence of other dogs or people who may upset your dog, or when your dog is in pain or uncomfortable.

What are the alternatives to touch as a reward?

Alternative rewards can include verbal praise, treats, toys, or shared activities tailored to your dog's individual preferences and needs.

How can I find out what touches my dog ​​prefers as a reward?

Observe your dog closely and pay attention to his reactions to various touches, such as stroking, scratching or gentle massaging. The preferred touches are often accompanied by positive body language and relaxation. As a tip, you can make a video while you reward your dog and analyze it at your leisure to better analyze your dog's body language.

How do I use touch as a reward effectively?

To use touch as a reward effectively, make sure to use your dog's preferred touches, time it correctly, combine touch with other rewards, incorporate them into training, pay attention to your dog's body language, and give them the opportunity to offer to escape from the touch.