I frequently get asked these questions when I take my dogs in public, “Are they friendly?”, “Do they bite?” and my favorite “Can I pet them?” My response is always the same, “ Yes, they are friendly,” “No, they won’t bite” and “Thank you for asking to pet them.” My dogs actually enjoy meeting new people, but this isn’t the case with all dogs.
This topic of greeting dogs is important because so many of us share our lives with dogs or we know someone who does. With dogs being such popular companions and often times accompanying their people in public, first time greetings between humans and dogs are bound to happen.
There are many dogs who are perfectly happy to be pet by a stranger, but there are many others who are uncomfortable with it and may only be tolerating the activity.
I urge people, whether you’re a dog person or not, to be respective of a dog’s space and their owners wishes. I hear it time and time again, “All dogs love me…he’ll be fine with me.” This statement often comes after someone has just explained their dog is shy or fearful. By being respectful of the dog and their person, everyone has a more pleasant experience.
When I’m first meeting a dog, if the dog’s person is there, I ALWAYS ask if I can pet their dog before approaching. If given the Okay, I will squat down, turn sideways to the dog, and invite him into my space rather than going to the dog and towering over him.
By changing my body language and approach I’m helping to communicate to the dog that I’m not a threat and that I come in peace. If the dog chooses to approach me, I then stroke the dog’s chin and under his ears, from there I’ll move my hand to his back– petting in long strokes. Until I know the dog feels comfortable with me, I avoid petting him on top of the head since this is a vulnerable position and many dogs are uncomfortable with being pet on top of their head by strangers.
If the dog does not come into my space, I take that as him communicating to me he’s not comfortable with me yet. I respect the dog’s wishes and don’t push the issue further. If an owner tells me their dog is not keen on strangers, I don’t take it personally and thank them for letting me know.
Many people take for granted that all dogs are alike, but we must remember that dogs are individuals just like us. Some dogs have a broader range of friends and are more sociable, where others have smaller social circles and are more introverted.
We all know of people who can walk into a room full of strangers and make conversation smoothly and comfortably; where other individuals shy away from social situations and assume the wallflower position when placed into them. Our dogs are no different; it’s up to us to know what canine-ality our dog has and to protect them from uncomfortable situations.
It’s also important to understand the breed of dog doesn’t represent their character. Again, dogs are individuals and although there may be tendencies within a breed; how social they are with other dogs and people will have a full spectrum of possibilities.
Be mindful of what a dog may be thinking and feeling, ask to pet the dog, read to dog’s body language to get the answer before petting, and don’t judge the dog by it’s cover.