Words of Woofdom – May I Pet Your Dog?
Many people see a dog, think “Oh she’s so cute,” and then want to immediately pet your dog without thinking about what the dog might want. Not all dogs like to be petted by a complete stranger. Some dogs want attention and love from anyone that is willing, while others tolerate it, and some will let you know it is just not OK to touch me. Think about it. Would you like to be touched by a complete stranger? If I were to approach you and you did not know me and I gave you a hug, you would probably think it was inappropriate behavior on my part.
There is a proper way of interacting with a new dog. First, always ask the pet parent if it is OK and don’t assume anything based on breed, etc. Second, DO NOT put your had out for a sniff but keep your hands at your sides. Direct eye contact, standing over a dog, and petting the top of the dog’s head may be threatening to many dogs. If a dog wants to interact with you, she will let you know. Overt indicators that a dog wants to interact with a human in a friendly manner: the ears are may be forward in a neutral position, the eyes are soft, the mouth/lips are relaxed, the tail is in neutral position or carried over the back. Dogs that wag their tails are not necessarily friendly. Tail wagging can occur before an aggressive attack. You should let the dog approach you. This way the dog can make the choice if he or she wants to be petted. Petting under the chin is much less threatening than on the head. This etiquette should be taught to children as well as adults. Here is a wonderful infographic by Lili Chin illustrating this perfectly.