Showing your dog love on Valentine’s Day

On this day when I was 4, next to my cereal bowl was a card and a red, heart-shaped box containing a heart necklace, both from my parents. As my mom secured the necklace around my neck, she explained that when someone takes time to write you a note, give you a box of candy or a Valentine’s Day surprise (she tapped the necklace), you know someone thinks you’re special.

I still have the heart, although I’m not sure what happened to the chain. More importantly, I have a special memory.

That’s how Valentine’s Day became my day for letting my family and friends know how special they are.

And this, of course, includes our furry canine, Teddy, for whom this day brings even more behind-the-ear scratches than he usually gets.

Nothing makes him feel more special.

Why? Because Teddy has three nerve centers that are more responsive to my touching than other parts of his body — his belly, behind his ears and between his toes. Because of my balance issues as a paraplegic, I rub his tummy less and his toes never. But, to date, the pooch has never lodged a complaint about the lack of paw massages.

He loves the ear scratches.

When I begin scratching behind his soft, velvet-like ears, Teddy’s body literally goes limp. His tail, which had been moving at a fever pitch, barely moves and his eyes slowly close.

He relaxes, just like I do when I get a massage. But Teddy’s body relaxes more than mine can because of the ear scratching.

It sounds simple, but it’s a complex act that turns on nerve impulses that stimulate specific organs.

“The act of stroking their ears stimulates the pituitary and hypothalamus glands, which releases endorphins,” says. “The secretion of these feel good, pain killing hormones makes a dog feel relaxed to the point where they’re somewhat in a trance. In short, it’s like a natural tranquillizer.”

To show Teddy I think he’s special, I first want to make sure he’s ready to receive that type of attention. says, “If a dog wants to be petted, he will sniff you, and then his ears and other parts of his body become relaxed. When he starts to wiggle a little bit or nuzzle up against you, that’s your sign that he’s ready for a good round of petting. Follow your dog’s cues.”

Teddy will let me know he wants to be petted by nudging my hands. He’ll also align his body so it is parallel to the right side of my wheelchair (a skill I taught him) so I can reach his ears or easily reach around his back and underneath to his tummy.

If, on the other hand, the Lab has his nose in his toy box looking for a toy, a game of fetch or tug-of-war would be more appropriate at that time than a quiet, relaxing session of ear scratches. So I’ll grab on the other end of the toy and start pulling.

Playing with Teddy also lets him know how special I think he is — on Valentine’s Day or any other.


Signs a dog doesn’t want to be petted:

1. Ducking or moving away

2. Leaning away from the person’s hand

3. Looks stressed, ears are back

4. Growling or whining

5. Licking the lips multiple times

6. Doesn’t take an offered treat or aggressively takes it

Karin Spicer is a member of The Dog Writers Association of America. She lives in Greene County with her family and two furry pets who inspire her. She can be reached at

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