The Right Way to Pet a Dog, According to Veterinarians

iStock/Akchamczuk
iStock/Akchamczuk

After reading that above headline, you may have thought to yourself, “There’s no right or wrong way to pet a dog. I’ve had dogs my whole life!” It’s true that canines tend to be less persnickety than cats when it comes to human affection, but veterinarians stress that there’s still some etiquette you should follow when petting a dog. This is especially true if it’s a dog you don’t know.

Much like humans, dogs are complex creatures with a wide range of personalities, so it helps to know the basics of dog psychology and body language before approaching that adorable golden retriever in the park. The best way to initiate contact with a dog (after getting the owner’s permission, of course) is to reach out and let the dog sniff your hand.

“Dogs live through their olfactory sense much more than their visual one,” Dr. Uri Burstyn, a veterinarian from Vancouver who also educates pet owners on YouTube, tells Mental Floss. Be sure to keep your hands curled, as if you were chopping vegetables, just in case the dog feels threatened and lunges to bite your fingers.

If the dog seems pretty comfortable and doesn’t recoil from your hand, the best place to pet a dog is under the chin. The one thing you should never do is immediately start patting the dog’s head. This can be seen as a dominant, aggressive gesture because dogs generally keep their nose to the ground. If a dog feels something touching the top of his head, he might think it’s a bigger dog attacking him and react in a defensive manner. “There’s an old joke that dogs can’t look up," Dr. Burstyn says. "They can, but hardly ever do.”

Ohio-based veterinary behaviorist Meghan Herron also cautions against touching a strange dog’s belly because it’s such a vulnerable area. In some cases, a dog might reveal his tummy to show that he’s feeling intimidated, and to convey that he’s not a threat. People tend to think this means the dog wants his belly scratched, but that isn’t always the case.

Of course, many dogs are comfortable with these types of interactions—even with strangers—because they’re used to being around people. However, Herron suggests erring on the side of caution. “What I recommend is just to assume they’re not [socialized] and pet them in a way that’s as least threatening as possible,” Herron tells Mental Floss. “Let it be the dog’s choice.”

Aside from these precautions, Burstyn and Herron recommend avoiding sensitive areas, like a dog’s paws or rump. Once you’re on good terms with a dog, try petting areas that are generally considered “good spots,” like the lower back and chest. This will vary depending on the dog, so pay attention to the subtle body cues they're sending you. A wagging tail just means a dog is ready to interact, which could mean that the dog is ready to bite. Instead, look for a dog with a wildly waving "helicopter tail" whose body is wiggly and loose, rather than stiff and rigid, Herron says. These are signs that a dog is happy and comfortable.

Do you have a kitty at home, too? Check out Burstyn’s advice for the right way to hold a cat, or visit his YouTube page for more pet tips.

Meet LiLou: The World's First Airport Therapy Pig

Kseniia Derzhavina/iStock via Getty Images
Kseniia Derzhavina/iStock via Getty Images

There's a new reason to get to the airport early—you might run into a therapy pig who's there to make your trip a little easier. As Reuters reports, LiLou the Juliana pig is a member of San Francisco International Airport's "Wag Brigade," a therapy animal program designed to ease stress and anxiety in travelers.

Aside from her snout and potbelly, LiLou can be recognized by her captain's hat and red "hoof" polish. She spends the day with guests who are happy to take a break from the pressures of traveling. She might comfort them by posing for a selfie, playing a song on her toy keyboard, or offering them a head to pet.

After bringing joy to people's day, LiLou goes home to her San Francisco apartment where she lives with her owner, Tatyana Danilova. In her free time, she goes on daily walks and snacks on organic vegetables. She even has her own Instagram account.

Airports around the world are embracing the benefits therapy animals can bring to customers. The Wag Brigade program at San Francisco includes a number of dogs, and earlier this year, the Aberdeen Airport in Scotland debuted its own "canine crew" of dogs trained to make travelers feel safe and happy. Therapy miniature horses have even been used at an airport in Kentucky. According to the San Francisco Airport, LiLiou is the world's first airport therapy pig.

To see LiLou turn on the charm, check out the video below.

[h/t Reuters]

Sssspectacular: Tree Snakes in Australia Can Actually Jump

sirichai_raksue/iStock via Getty Images
sirichai_raksue/iStock via Getty Images

Ophidiophobia, or fear of snakes, is common among humans. We avoid snakes in the wild, have nightmares about snakes at night, and recoil at snakes on television. We might even be born with the aversion. When researchers showed babies photos of snakes and spiders, their tiny pupils dilated, indicating an arousal response to these ancestral threats.

If you really want to scare a baby, show them footage of an Australian tree snake. Thanks to researchers at Virginia Tech, we now know these non-venomous snakes of the genus Dendrelaphis can become airborne, propelling themselves around treetops like sentient Silly String.

That’s Dendrelaphis pictus, which was caught zipping through the air in 2010. After looking at footage previously filmed by her advisor Jake Socha, Virginia Tech Ph.D. candidate Michelle Graham headed for Australia and built a kind of American Ninja Warrior course for snakes out of PVC piping and tree branches. Graham observed that the snakes tend to spot their landing target, then spring upward. The momentum gets them across gaps that would otherwise not be practical to cross.

Graham next plans to investigate why snakes feel compelled to jump. They might feel a need to escape, or continue moving, or do it because they can. Two scientific papers due in 2020 could provide answers.

Dendrelaphis isn’t the only kind of snake with propulsive capabilities. The Chrysopelea genus includes five species found in Southeast Asia and China, among other places, that can glide through the air.

[h/t National Geographic]

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