The Bulletin

Why Does My Dog Back Away When I Try to Pet Him?


When you try to pet your dog, does he back away from you? Many dog owners encounter this and then they wonder why their dog is behaving this way. There are many possible reasons why your dog is backing away from you and there are ways that you can get this behaviour to stop. Some of the possible reasons are that the dog is fearful, it has an injury, it thinks you may try to pick it up or you are petting it too hard.

If any of the above reasons sound possible, then you will need to investigate the main cause, and this will help you to change the behaviour of your dog.

Are you Petting Your Dog Too Hard?

If you are petting your dog in a forceful way and he is backing away from you it is because he does not like this treatment. If the dog drops his head and “fakes” away from you then it could be that you are petting him too hard.

Maybe the Dog is Injured

If your dog has an injury, then simply petting the dog may cause him pain. This could be a likely cause of the dog moving away from you, especially if he has shown other signs of injury, like limping. If you suspect that your dog is injured, it is a good idea to take him to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible to have him checked over.

The Dog is Afraid of You

If you try to pet a dog and he is backing away from you it could be because he is afraid of you. Maybe you have been playing too roughly with him (if he is a puppy) or you have raised your voice out of frustration. Whatever the reason, you will now need to use positive reinforcement training to encourage your dog to come to you and to begin to trust you. This is the main reason why fear-based training may not work in the long run.

The Dog has Anxiety

The cause of a dog backing away from you could be anxiety. It might think that you are going to try and pick it up and take it to a place it does not want to be. This type of behaviour may occur if you only pet the dog when you are trying to pick it up because you want to put it into its crate.

What should you do if your dog backs away when you try to pet it? First, you will need to determine when this behaviour started happening and what the main reason is for it. What happened when the behaviour first started? Maybe your dog did not always back away from you when you pet him in the past. If the dog started to do this behaviour suddenly then it could be because it has an injury and is in a lot of pain.

Watch What Is Happening

When you try to pet your dog and he is not backing away, what are the circumstances at that time? You can also check out what is different when the dog does back away. Maybe he does not back away when you approach him slowly but does back away if you come at him quickly and he perceives you as aggressive.

Be Aware of Your Body Language

Your body language is also something to take note of. Your dog will react to your body language, and you may not even notice that you are doing something that could startle your dog. If your dog is trying to avoid your or make himself smaller then this is likely because you have been petting him too hard or you have been too aggressive, and he is just intimidated. If the dog is relaxed before you approach him then it could just be that he does not like being pet.

What can you do When Your Dog is Backing Away?

If you are trying to pet your dog and he is backing away from you then you should consider some of the options.

Is the Dog Injured?

If this behaviour is new and out of character for your dog, then it is likely because he has an injury. You should, at this point, take the dog to a vet to have him examined. If you do this, you should be able to get some advice about your dog while you are ensuring that he is not injured.

Try to be Calm and Gentle

As discussed earlier, it could be that you are too aggressive for the dog. Puppies are easily intimidated if they are not an alpha and will cower because humans are large and intimidating. If you want to interact with your dog, try to be kind, calm and gentle so that you do not frighten him or cause him to be anxious.

Use Positive Reinforcement

When training your dog, always use positive reinforcement training. This is when you train your dog to do something or behave a certain way by giving him a treat or a reward when he does that thing. Reward your dog when he comes to you and encourage him with a happy tone. Your dog will start to realize that there is nothing to be afraid of and he will come to you and not back away.

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