Five second rule for petting dogs

Woof! Dog Training - petting a dogI attended Grisha Stewart’s seminar on BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training) this past weekend, and she shared with us a great idea called the “5 Second Rule”. The 5 Second Rule says that we should pet dogs for a maximum of five seconds at a time, in order to give them a chance to tell us when they’d no longer like to be pet.

It’s amazing how much we bulldoze dogs when it comes to their body language. Often times, even our own dogs, are not particularly fond of the things we do – petting them rudely on the head, hugging them, pulling on their fur, or sometimes just petting them in general when they’d rather not be touched. If we pay attention to their body language – and give them choices – they will clearly answer the questions, “Would you like to be pet right now?” and “Would you like me to pet you some more?” 

Keeping petting to a maximum of five seconds, especially with dogs you don’t know incredibly well, can be a wonderful way to ensure that any contact with the dog is welcomed and enjoyed by the dog. After five seconds, simply stop your petting. If the dog comes back to you eagerly seeking more petting, you can continue. If the dog walks away, or if your dog showed any avoidance behaviors during the petting, then that was enough for him at that moment. Walking away, of course, doesn’t always mean that he wasn’t enjoying the petting you were handing out, but it gives him the opportunity to do something else if he prefers to do so. Likewise, not walking away doesn’t always mean the dog enjoyed the petting. Learning to read a dog’s body language is really helpful in determining what dogs truly like versus what they are simply tolerating.

This is a great lessons to teach to kids who are just learning how to interact with dogs. It’s also a great lesson for us adult humans to remember. We tend to pet our dogs whenever we feel like it. I know I’m guilty of that. I squeeze my yellow lab and snuggle her close to me like she’s dog-on-demand. But I am sure there are times she would prefer not to be bothered. The 5 Second Rule can help me respect her space, which will build even more trust into our relationship and empower her to use her body language wisely to make choices about her interactions with people. The more we are able to set up situations where our dogs use their body language, and we respond in a way that reinforces them for this (giving them what they wanted when they used that body language), the more our dogs will continue to use those good non-verbal communication skills in ways we like.

Another trainer posted this YouTube video that shows her asking a dog if she would like to be pet, in action.

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