This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine so I do apologize if I sound a bit strongly about this. I am often astounded at how often I see people coming over to dogs they do not know and greeting them without ever asking first. In addition to it being rude, it is also incredibly dangerous. No matter how cute that dog looks, it is no guarantee it is friendly.
When I was younger, my parents taught me never to touch something that did not belong to me and to always ask permission first. It just came naturally to me that I should ask a pet owner who’s dog I wanted to greet if it was okay to do so. In addition to that being the polite thing to do, it also helped protect me if the dog was one that did not like to be greeted. As sad as it is to say, not every dog enjoys having a stranger whom they have never met to come over and roughly pat them on the head. I know that your intentions are good but please take a moment to ask first.
Imagine how the dog might see it. I want you to put yourself in the dog’s paws for a moment. How would you react if a complete stranger came up to you and roughly gave you a hug? Did I forget to mention that you have a phobia of being touched? Next this person gives you a smooch right on the lips, all the while, speaking Portuguese-baby-talk.
Now me personally, I don’t mind a nice hug from a stranger, granted they don’t smell funny (no offense). However, I certainly wouldn’t want someone giving me a kiss and if they spoke a language that I did not, I would have a lot of trouble telling them “please, don’t” without getting into a physical confrontation with them.
I had taken one of my St. Bernard’s, Bruce, to the pet store with me to get some provisions. As an adorable fluff ball, he is a magnet for attention. I do my best to help people say hi to him in a way he likes but I can’t always. This particular day, a woman came out of no where, loomed over Bruce and wrapped her arms him in a great big hug. I was horrified for a moment before Bruce gave what is known as a muzzle punch to her face. This meant a closed mouth punch that resulted in her glasses being knocked off and slime all over her face. I was horrified at what I had allowed this woman to do to my dog, and embarrassed by his actions (though, quite frankly, they were appropriate).
Luckily, the woman was not scathed and was actually laughing about it. However, if this were a different dog, this woman could very easily have needed plastic surgery because of her actions; even a very low level bite to the face can be devastating. And if that had occured, you can bet that the dog will be likely euthanized and the owner possibly sued, all because some person didn’t ask first.
Now, asking the owner is really only half the equation. You also should always ask a dog if it’s okay to pet them because sometimes even owners may not realize their dog would rather not be petted. They may just be having an off day or perhaps a bit stressed out. No matter the reason, asking the dog will help to save the dog from taking issue with your greeting.
How should you ask the dog though, you may be wondering? By being respectful of their space for one. Do not just rush up to a dog and expect them to like you. Approach the dog at a gentle pace and stop just outside the dog’s bubble. Allow them to make the move towards you if they would like. If the dog seems relaxed and interested in your attention, then gently pet the dog. I recommend gently petting the dog on the side closest to you, on the chest or around the chin. This way, the dog can see where you are petting and can easily walk away if they are done with getting your attention.
Hopefully, you now of a small glimpse of how our dogs may perceive us saying hi. Now, there are many dogs out there who would be absolutely thrilled to have you do this to them but by asking permission first, you can be more polite to person and pet alike and I for one would like to see some more politeness in this world.
For additional resources on how to greet dogs appropriately, for what to avoid, and to better understand how dog’s may feel about this, please feel free to contact us or visit www.drsophiayin.com for some fantastic free handouts.