My Dog Backs Away When I Reach For Him (5 Reasons + Solutions)

If you like pets and have the space and time for a dog, they are a hard one to pass up. Dogs make excellent walking partners, most of them are always ready for a cuddle and they are very good at listening to your problems (even if they don’t understand what you’re saying).

For most of us dog owners, our dogs are part of our families, and as such, it is only natural that we want our dogs to live their best possible lives. A big part of making sure that happens is knowing what the heck your dog means when he does different things.

Dogs have many different and interesting (even if amusing) habits. If your dog starts sniffing your ears, howling at the phone, or licking concrete, you need to figure out what is going on. The last thing you want is your good boy displaying some obvious sign of distress that you’re oblivious to us.

So, what about when your dog backs up as you try to pet him? What does it mean when my dog backs away when I reach for him? When a dog backs away from a person, it could mean that the dog is scared or anxious. Dogs may also back away when they are playing or if they don’t like the way you touch them. It is important to determine why the dog is backing away to provide the appropriate care.


This is probably what most dog owners are concerned about. If your dog backs away from you, does it mean he’s scared of you? Possibly, though not always for the reason most people think. If your dog is scared of you and backs away as your reach for him, it could be for more than one reason.


Your voice (or whoever’s voice your dog is backing away from) may be too deep, you’re too tall, you have a huge hat on, or, or, or…You get the idea. There might be something about you that is intimidating your dog, and when you reach for him he backs away because he’s uneasy about the situation.


Dogs like to play rough, and sometimes their owners do too. If you frequently grab your dog roughly or try to pull him close when he’s not expecting it, he may back away from you as a way of saying “Whoa, buddy, take it easy!”. If you’re regularly too rough he might start preemptively backing away too.


This is the reason most people are concerned with. Is your dog backing away from you when you reach for him because he’s scared you’ll hurt him? It’s possible. Maybe he had a bad owner before you, maybe you did something on accident but for whatever reason, your dog thinks you will hurt him when you reach for him.

If this is the case, you’ll want to be extra careful and slow in your movements. So you can try and win your dog’s trust back, which includes not hurting your dog, even by accident anymore.


This can be more common in rescue dogs but isn’t just limited to them because some dogs are also naturally shyer. They don’t like being touched by people they don’t know well and may back away when you reach for them. If this is the case, give your dog time to warm up to you before trying to pet him.


Dogs that are susceptible to anxiety can develop it from so many different things. In this case, if your dog isn’t scared (see above) then the anxiety may stem from something else about your situation when you reach for him.

If you often reach for your dog in situations that he doesn’t like the result of, like putting a leash on him to go to the vet, then your dog may be just trying to head off the situation by backing away from you before you can catch him.

Anxious dogs may also start to back away when they are in new situations or around new people. If this is the case, try to reassure your dog and make sure he knows that you’re not going to force him into anything he doesn’t want to do.

Your Pets Need More Finesse

If this is why your dog is backing away when you reach for him, don’t take it as an insult, take it as a way to improve your relationship with your furry friend. It’s not that he doesn’t love you, he may just need a little more finesse from you.

In these cases, try petting and reaching for your dog in different ways, or experiment with how you interact to see what he does and doesn’t respond well to. Remember, even if your dog is scared of you or anxious around you, there are still ways to build trust and show him that you’re not going to hurt him.

You Pet The Wrong Spot

Not every dog loves to be touched and pet everywhere. Some dogs can be particular about where they are pet. If you’re petting your dog in a spot that he doesn’t like, he may back away from you to try and get you to stop or move to a different spot.

You Pet The Wrong Way

Compared to everything else I’m discussing in this article, this is probably one of the least probable reasons your dog backs away when you reach for him. However, it does happen.

Possibly, your dog doesn’t like the way you pet him. He may not like firm pressure, or he may prefer you to pet him in a certain direction. It’s also possible that your dog doesn’t like to be pet at all and is just putting up with it because he loves you.

Your Dog Is In Pain

It could be his skin is sensitive or you pet his sore back or make him use his aching knees in ways he doesn’t want to anymore. For some reason, your dog’s pain could be causing him to back away when you reach for him.

Being A Good Dog

Just because your dog is doing something you don’t want him to, doesn’t mean he isn’t trying to be a good dog. Even if you want your dog to stand still when your reach for him; No matter if it is for pets or to put a leash on him or something else, your dog might be thinking he’s being a very good boy by backing away.


Dogs are known to love to play. Playing is one of the most important things you can do with your dog. If you’re trying to reach for your dog and he backs away, he may think you’re playing a game with him.

This is especially true if you often try to catch your dog or if you have a history of playing games where he runs from you. One game one of my dogs LOVES to play is bringing me his favorite toy and then as I reach for it running away!

Of course, he initiates this game so it’s no big deal for us, but some dogs will think you’re initiating a fun ‘keep-away’ type game too.

You Encouraged It

Dogs respond to rewards…even rewards we don’t intentionally give them. If you’ve ever rewarded your dog for backing away when you reach for him, even if it was just a pat on the head or some verbal encouragement, then you’ve rewarded the behavior enough and he’s likely to do it again in the future.

A New Behavior

If your dog used to not back away when you reached for him, but rather, gladly welcomed pets, his leash, or whatever else you needed to do. Then something changed, and likely not for the better.

Something Happened

Whether it was you accidentally hurting or scaring your dog, your toddler pulling his tail, or your mean neighbor doing something purposely, someone may have hurt or scared your dog when they reached for him.

No one wants to admit when they or their friends or kids did something wrong, but be honest with yourself about this one, and ask your friends and kids to be honest too. If someone hurt your dog you need to know!

Medical Issue

This comes up time and again in the questions we answer on this website, but it is a fact that dogs who are suddenly very ill or injured can drastically change the way they act. Dogs in pain may back away from you when you try to reach for them.

A medical issue isn’t always something major like an injury or something crazy like a tumor. Sometimes dogs with things like ear infections can be very sensitive to touch and your dog may back away from you when you try to pet them or put a collar or leash on them.

What Should I Do If My Dog Backs Away When I Reach For Him?

No one wants their dog to be afraid of them, timid, or in pain. It can also be a bit embarrassing to appear to be an incapable dog owner, when in fact something else entirely is going on. So, what can you do about a dog that backs away when you reach for him? Fortunately, some basic steps will help resolve the situation.

Pay Attention To Body Language

The first step is to start paying attention to your dog’s body language. This will help you understand what he’s feeling and thinking, and give you insight into why your dog is backing away when you reach for him. For instance, there will be big and obvious differences if your dog is in pain or trying to play.

Patience Is A Virtue

It’s a saying for a reason and is especially true when you are trying to deal with a dog that is displaying some possibly despondent behavior.

The entire time you are trying to assess and correct your dog’s habit of backing away from you as you reach for him, be sure to be patient. Being kind and relaxed will also help the situation immensely.

Reassure Your Dog

If your dog isn’t playing when he backs away from you, then the problem is likely one of the other issues I went over above. Be sure to let your dog know that everything is going to be okay. For some pets (where you know your dog will appreciate them), treats and a soft voice can go a long way for your sweet pooch.

Don’t Let Others Reach For Your Dog

If you think your dog is shy or is scared of being hurt by someone, don’t let new people watch, reach for, or even pet your dog until you know what is going on. While it might be fun for you to see your buddy for the first time in years, to your scared and/or shy pooch it might not be the best experience.

So, until you know what is going on with your dog, and have come up with a plan of action to correct it, it’s best to only allow familiar people to reach for your dog.

Don’t Give The Okay

As I mentioned above, one reason your dog might back away when you reach for him is that you encouraged it. Whether that was intentional or not, it really doesn’t matter. If your dog thinks he wants you to back away when you reach for him, he will likely be a good boy and oblige.

If you don’t want him to do this, first stop encouraging it! Next, work on encouraging him to not back away when you reach for him. You can immediately correct your mistake and with time correct your dog’s behavior as well.

Consult With A Pro

If you can’t figure out your dog’s motivation for backing up from you, or you can’t successfully correct the behavior on your own, it is time to talk with either your vet or a professional dog trainer.

Don’t worry about going to the wrong one as they will point you in the right direction should your dog’s problem be out of their expertise.

Both a professional trainer and your vet will be able to give you personalized advice to help you deal with your dog’s exact situation.

Final Thoughts: Why Do Dogs Back Away When You Reach For Them?

Dogs can back away for a variety of reasons, some of which are behavioral and some of which are medical. If your dog backs away when you reach for him, it’s important to take the time to try and determine why he’s doing it. He could be scared, anxious, trying to play or you could just be reaching for or petting him in the wrong spot.

If your dog backs away when you reach for him, it’s important to take the time to try and determine why he’s doing it. There are a variety of reasons why a dog may back away, some of which are behavioral and some of which are medical. By taking the time to try and figure out why your dog is doing this, you can better address the issue.

Once you know the reason, you can work on correcting the behavior. If you’re unsure of why your dog is backing away or you can’t seem to fix the problem, be sure to consult with a professional. They will be able to help you better understand and address the issue.

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