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Literacy & Learning



As therapy dog handlers, we are responsible for making sure that children behave appropriately around dogs, and this is a perfect opportunity to teach them how to respect all dogs and interact safely with them.

If you read articles by animal behaviorists, you will eventually read about the best way to touch your dogs. Many dog owners perceive their pets as “fur babies” and approach touching in similar ways that people touch humans – think hugging. Many dogs will tolerate hugging, but do not really like it.

So let’s take the time to think about how your dog prefers to be touched. Think of touching by their canine rules. 

Most people touch dogs on top of the head while standing directly over them.  From a canine viewpoint, this is an aggressive move.  What most dogs love and prefer is to be stroked on the cheeks and along the sides of the neck. 

Dogs prefer long, gentle strokes in the direction of hair growth, starting at the neck and proceeding rearward towards the tail.

And many dogs love to have their bellies rubbed.  If the dog is comfortable and offers its belly, gentle strokes often are quite pleasurable for them.


With strange dogs, it is  recommended to avert direct eye contact. Staring is perceived as hostile in the canine world, especially if it is sustained.  It is also strongly encouraged to approach strange dogs indirectly, making a slight arc in your path and coming towards their side. This gives the dog more time to get a sense of you without feeling a direct threat. We therapy dog handlers take the responsibility for monitoring how the students interact with our dogs. It is a perfect time to educate students in basic canine behavior, so they become safe around all dogs.