Why Does My Dog Tense Up When I Pet Her – Is It Painful?

Dogs may have unique temperaments, but generally, all canines love being petted. That’s why pet parents can get a little anxious when their lovable companion suddenly develops an aversion to being touched. This likely leaves you wondering, why does my dog tense up when I pet her?

Dogs tense up when you pet them because they are in pain from an injury or a skin allergy. Other causes for canine flinching include inadequate socialization, a reticent or shy personality, or vision problems. 

The idea of your fur baby being in pain can be distressing as a canine enthusiast. But, you can cut through all that anxiety by reading our dog-centric article for helpful info and tips on how to handle the situation. 

Reasons Your Dog Tenses Up When You Pet It

As we said earlier, it can be a little perplexing when your pup develops a sudden dislike of being touched or petted. You don’t need to worry about your dog not loving you anymore because of it. Instead, there’s likely a logical reason behind your canine’s behavior. Here are five of the likeliest reasons why your dog tenses up when you try to pet it. 

An Injury

Not all injuries sustained by dogs are immediately discoverable or visible. Things like a pulled muscle or ligament or a tooth/gum injury can be pretty tricky to detect. However, if your pet has sustained an injury and is in pain, a sudden dislike for being petted is a prevalent sign, especially if you’re trying to rub or touch the source of its misery. 

Skin Allergy

Skin allergies can develop for various reasons, such as an inadequate diet, chemical irritants in detergents or shampoos, and unhygienic bedding conditions. Unlike in humans, a skin allergy in canines doesn’t just cause itchiness, redness, or swelling – it can make skin contact painful. What’s more, if your furball’s skin allergy is getting worse, its excessive licking or scratching can lead to raw skin that’s sore – even without any petting or touching.

Inadequate Socialization

If you’re the proud parent of a canine, you must have heard of the benefits of early socialization training. Socialization helps your pooch acclimatize to the presence of strangers, other pets and helps your dog grow into a calm and mature adult. 

If your furbaby doesn’t receive early socialization training, it can develop anxiety over the presence of guests in your household and take to spending time away from people – including you. Besides that, inadequate socialization can also lead to your pup developing a dislike for being touched because it’s not been made familiar with the process.

Shy Or Timid Personality

All dogs are not created equal. While some canines breeds are naturally playful and outgoing, others are more reserved or lazy. Add to that the fact that each canine has its distinct quirks – and you’ll understand that perhaps your dog is flinching from your touch because it’s shy or timid. 

That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your furry companion, but just that it’s not like other canines that are into snuggling or cuddling. If your dog is in the prime of its life, has no health concerns to speak of, and hasn’t been very into petting from the beginning – then it’s highly likely that being petted all the time isn’t its cup of tea. 

Vision Problems

Do you know how we freak out at things that we don’t see coming from our line of vision? 

Similarly, your dog can flinch and tense at your touch if it has vision problems. Dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell and sight – and when one of those senses isn’t working the way it should, it can cause your do distress.

Even though vision problems are more common in older dogs, younger canines (even pups) can experience eye troubles due to infections or congenital concerns. If you notice your dog keeps bumping into things or becomes startled easily, it’s best to have the vet check it out asap.

Is It Normal For Dogs To Tense Up

Unless your dog has been opposed to being petted right from the beginning, there’s generally a reason behind your pooch tensing up when you try and touch it.

The reasons behind your dog developing a distaste for being touched (or tensing up when being petted) can range from injury to skin allergies, a lack of socialization, a timid personality, or vision concerns. 

If your dog is in pain from an injury or allergy, you’re bound to notice other signs like your pet disappearing for long periods, preferring solitude, or excessive scratching/itching.

On the other hand, if the problem is vision-related, you’ll notice your dog bumping into things or experiencing balance problems. 

What Does It Mean When A Dog Tenses Up

A dog will tense up in situations where it’s experiencing pain or is uncomfortable. Generally, dogs at peace with their surroundings and optimal health (without injuries or other health-related concerns) will display their comfort without any tension or flinching. 

However, it’s also possible for a canine to tense up if it’s not used to human contact or has a shy personality and prefers not to be touched too often. 

Why Does My Dog Tense Up When I Scratch His Back

Your dog can tense up when you scratch its back for several reasons. The most common culprit in such situations is pain – related to an injury or a health condition (like arthritis or a skin allergy).

Back pain in canines can be related to issues like age, genetic disposition, or trauma. A minimal strain or sprain will generally resolve itself in a few days, and you may notice your dogs activity level go down slightly as its body recuperates.

If your pet’s health and movement don’t pick up after three to four days, this can signal the presence of more serious concerns, like spondylosis or intervertebral disc disease.

Suppose your dog is also displaying symptoms like weakness, unusual gait, arched back, and incontinence, along with flinching or tensing up upon being touched. In that case, it’s highly recommended to take your canine to the vet as quickly as you can.

Why Is My Dog Super Sensitive To Touch

If you’ve ruled out pain related to a trauma or health concern, your dog can be super-sensitive to touch due to distressing experiences. Some canines naturally prefer their own company and aren’t too crazy about petting. 

However, rescue dogs sometimes develop a dislike of being touched because they’ve been mistreated or abused at some point in their lives. Adopted dogs may need to be gradually introduced to liking or tolerating human touch by associating good memories with the act. 

You can get your canine to get used to your touch through positive reinforcement – by offering praise and treats every time it allows you to touch it. The process will require you to expend time and patience, and forcing your pet is an absolute no-no. 

Tips To Calm A Tense Dog

How you can calm your tense dog depends on the reason behind its behavior. For instance, if your canine is in pain for whatever reason, the surest way to help it can down is to tackle the reason behind its misery, so it can get the relief it deserves.

If you suspect your dog is in pain, your best bet is to take it to the vet – who can help diagnose the problem and provide medications to help alleviate the pain. 

On the other hand, if your rescue canine dislikes human touch, you can help your dog calm down by giving it the space it needs to relax and gradually train it to like your touch via positive reinforcement. 

Finally, you can tempt your shy dog for a quick cuddle or petting session by building a deeper bond with your pet or enlisting the help of an expert dog trainer to help your pup overcome its fear of strange or scary stimuli. 

Other Considerations

It’s not easy being a dog parent, especially when you have reason to suspect your furbaby is distressed – mentally or physically. However, here are some pointers to help you tackle the situation and get your dog the help it needs. 

Enlist The Experts

If you’re unable to figure out the reason behind your pet’s dislike of being petted, it’s best to enlist help from experts. Even if your pup doesn’t show any signs of being in pain, your vet can help point you in the right direction to solve your canine’s problems.

For instance, if your vet suspects your dog is tensing up when you pet it due to anxiety or mistreatment – he or she can recommend your next course of action, such as hiring a pet behaviorist to get to the root of the problem. 

Be Gentle And Patient

Canines are often referred to as furbabies not only because we think of them as family but also because looking after them can require the same amount of care, love, and patience.

It can take time to figure out why your pet is behaving in a certain way, and it can take even longer to help your dog get back to normal. 

That’s why losing patience or being forceful with your pet (by overlooking its wishes to be left alone) is not an option. Remember, your pet will only get comfortable with your presence when it trusts you implicitly, and building trust takes time. 

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