If you’re the kind of person that has to pet every dog you meet, these tips are for you.
I love dogs. All dogs. Big ones, small ones, furry ones, bald ones. It doesn’t matter if I’m mid-conversation with a group of people or I’m just walking to catch a bus; if I see someone walking their dog, I must, in some way, acknowledge the adorableness of said pooch. This could be in the form of a high-pitched squeal, a knee-drop, or full-on belly rub. I have a problem when it comes to petting other people’s dogs.
I used to be worse, but now I catch myself before I go into full puppy meltdown. Now, I know there’s proper etiquette for meeting and greeting a stranger’s dog. It’s what I would want a stranger to do if he/she couldn’t help themselves around my dog.
Even though a dog may look friendly, you don’t know the dog and the dog doesn’t know you. Looks can be deceiving. Think of it as Pet-equette—a set of proper manners you should follow when you want to greet someone’s dog.
This is the first thing you need to do, and there’s a right way to ask. Don’t ask if the dog is friendly—that implies that the dog’s at fault somehow if he doesn’t want to meet you. Instead, ask if it’s okay to say hello to their dog. If the answer is no, thank them and move along. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the dog, it could just be he feels frighten in new situations or meeting new people.
If you get the go ahead for the owner, approach slowly but confidently. There’s no need to rush this introduction. You’ll need to watch the dog’s body language to make sure he’s comfortable with your approach.
We shake hands when we’re introduced to another person. The sniff test for a dog is his way of shaking hands. Before any petting gets underway, let the dog sniff your hand. Hold your hand out flat to the dog and let him approach you. If he gets a sniff and wants to move forward, go ahead and pet him.
Be gentle about your first pet. Scratch him gently under the chin rather than on top of the head. Always stay in front of the dog where he can see you and don’t make any sudden movements that might startle him.
Short and Sweet
Don’t push the limits of this first meeting, even if he likes the attention. You don’t want to push him past his limits.
What NOT to Do
Don’t Freak Out!
You shouldn’t approach the dog without permission and when you do approach him, to do so slowly. Don’t bend or squat down to greet the dog. While this may be okay in some situations, making direct eye contact with a strange dog can sometimes be perceived as a threat. Pet the dog calmly while talking to the owner and back off if the dog seems to get nervous.
Don't do the Frankenstein Monster
In addition to not squealing and charging towards another person's dog, make sure you don't walk towards the dog with your arms outstretched. Dogs normally perceive this as a threat, especially if they don't know you. This goes back to the "Sniff Test" point above; if you don't let the dog sniff you first, you might be asking for a not so friendly response. Think of a toddler waddling towards an unsuspecting dog, arms outstretched, squealing the whole time—not many dogs can handle that. Turn a bit to the side if possible with your arms down, showing you're not a dominant threat.
Don’t Invade Doggy Space
Remember that episode of Jerry Seinfeld and the “close talker”? The term refers to someone who stands unusually close to you while having a conversation—the concept of respecting another person’s personal space is foreign to them. The same goes for dogs. How would you like a stranger sticking his face into yours, grabbing your ears, pulling you in for hugs and kisses? Creepy, right? Yeah, a lot of dogs think so, too. Many dogs won’t understand this type of affection, and instead perceive it as a threat. Instead of pulling out the pepper spray or a Taser, a dog would use his teeth to tell you to back off.
These simple steps are for both you and the dog—and dog owners everywhere will thank you.
Amy Tokic is the Editor of Petguide.com, the flagship site to over 70 different pet communities, which offers pet parents a one-stop-info-shop for all things dog and cat related. Amy's been with PetGuide since the beginning, guided by the wisdom of her Shih Tzu mix and furry roommate, Oscar. Together, this pet power couple has their paw on the pulse of the pet industry, sniffing out trends, advice, news, tasty treat recipes and other tail-wagging stories.