Petting is the affectionate act of stroking, brushing or caressing an animal's fur, scratching its ears, rubbing its belly etc., for mutual enjoyment. Grooming behavior in some animals is similar to petting, but generally the verb "pet" refers to a human petting a nonhuman animal or another human being.
Petting an animal can act as a reward when training an intelligent animal such as a dog, rather than to reward behavior with food. Affection training enthusiasts say that food should be given only at mealtimes. An affectionate ruffling of the neck fur, a scratch behind the ears, or a kind word may work quicker and be more humane than 'treats.'
Different animals respond well to different types of petting, even within the same species: one cat may enjoy a light scratch, just between its eyes, while another cat may demand to be kneaded like a loaf of bread. A dog might like to be brushed, a horse may prefer a curry comb rubbed in circles, whilst parrots can enjoy having the tops of their heads gently scratched, against the grain of their plumage.
Some animals, including many cats, seem to hate being petted in the reverse direction from the way their fur goes, so much so that to "rub someone the wrong way" is an idiomatic way of saying that an action annoys someone.
By extension, between humans, petting also means affectionate stroking and caressing. In the latter case the term often has a sexual connotation, eg. ("heavy petting").
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