When dogs duck to avoid pets, pats and lovies, it’s easy to assume prior abuse is the culprit.
After all, why else would they go out of their way to avoid a good ear scritch?
However, ducking your outstretched hand often has very little to do with an abusive past.
Let’s talk about some of those reasons, then we’ll touch on what to do when it is the result of abuse.
Why Dogs Duck to Avoid Your Hand
This post is inspired by a question I saw in a dog group. The person asked:
“I just adopted a dog. Whenever you try to pet her she always ducks down to avoid your hand.
Does this mean she has been abused in the past, and how do I teach her I’m not going to hurt her?”
When I read it, I immediately thought of my own Pharaoh Hound, Freya.
She ducks to avoid our hand all of the time when she’s busy.
It has nothing to do with abuse and everything to do with reason #1.
Let’s take a look.
1. It’s all in her breed
Some dog breeds just aren’t all that into having their heads touched.
Freya is fine with it when she’s in “couch potato” mode, but not so much when she’s busy.
If I try to pet her head when her “hyper drive” is activated, she jumps back like I’ve just poked her with a cow prod.
It took some getting used to, because my Shepherd and Collie/Lab LOVED head rubs.
Even my rescue mix- who spent the first 6 months of his life in horrid conditions- loved having his head stroked.
Pharaoh Hounds are far from the only “my head is a no-fly zone” breeds.
So, if your dog ducks to avoid your hand, do some research and talk to other owners.
You may find that the answer is as simple as “it’s part of their breed.” If not, keep reading.
2. She feels threatened
Even if your dog’s breed isn’t particularly particular about head pats, she may still view them as a threat.
As a Hound Helpers Ltd worker told Country Living, “Dogs don’t like you going over their head. It’s quite a threatening gesture for them, as is going straight forward into them.”
This “threatened” feeling has absolutely nothing to do with abuse and everything to do with instinct.
Think about it-do you enjoy seeing a hand flying towards your face, even if it’s for loving reasons?
I know it freaks me out!
3. You’re coming at him from the wrong angle
Maybe your dog actually does like the idea of head pats, but you’re just approaching him from the wrong angle (literally).
Even my Shepherd, who LOVED head snuggles, would flinch if I just came all willy-nilly at her from the front.
As international dog trainer Sarah Bartlett told The Mirror, “The wrong way to approach a dog is to walk up to them head on and just lean straight over them and go down and [stroke them].”
So, try approaching from a different angle. Preferably one that doesn’t involve your hand flying towards your dog’s face.
4. She doesn’t know you well enough
So, you’re doing everything right.
You’re approaching from the proper angle, being gentle, and considering your dog’s breed.
Yet, she still ducks to avoid being pet. What’s up with that?
Maybe, just maybe, you haven’t earned her trust yet.
She needs to get to know you before she realizes that head pats are a sign of affection.
So, if you’ve just adopted her, give her some time and stick to “safe” zones like her shoulders, chest, and even under her chin.
5. She was abused
If your dog ducks to avoid your hand AND shows any (or all) of these other signs below, it really could be all about abuse.
- Your dog is underweight or shows signs of malnutrition.
- He cowers in the presence of certain objects (like a belt).
- Abnormal gait (could be congenital, but also could indicate prior broken bones)
- Aggressive behavior
- “Overreactions” (example- he jumps up or cowers when you raise your voice, even if it’s just to yell up to your kids that dinner is done).
- Excessive whining, chewing, or digging (note, excessive, as these are normal behaviors in moderation).
It’s important to remember that each of these signs on their own could have perfectly reasonable explanations.
A new dog needs time to adjust to your home, so he may be extra “skitzy” for the first few days (or even weeks).
Likewise, some dogs just naturally “overreact” to certain sounds. The first time Freya heard a blender, she wouldn’t come back inside for hours!
All dogs whine sometimes. All dogs dig and chew. Some even do it excessively for reasons other than prior abuse.
So, you really have to look at the whole picture and not just one piece of the puzzle.
How do you get an abused dog to trust you?
That, my friends, is a whole different post and not something easily summed up under a catchy header.
In fact, we did write about it, in depth, in the following pieces:
I also love Zak George’s tips for getting a fearful dog to trust you. Take a look:
In most cases, dogs ducking to avoid your hand isn’t about abuse so much as instincts.
That said, if you have any reason to suspect that your new rescue was abused, consider talking to an expert trainer.