It is hard to resist the urge to run up to pet a dog you don’t know when you encounter one in the world, but this situation can quickly turn from an unexpected run in with a potential new furry friend into one of possible injury if that new dog is itself not interested in interacting with you. For this reason, there are some things you need to always remember when you are attempting to pet a new-to-you animal.
First, try talking to the dog’s owner before you interact with the dog. This is good practice for a number of reasons. For one, it’s a sign of courtesy but the dog’s owner may be able to preemptively tell you whether or not it is a good idea to attempt an interaction with their animal. It also may have the added bonus, depending on the dog, of showing the animal that you are not to be treated as a threat because their owner doesn’t see you as one.
If the owner says that it is okay to say hello to their dog, do so in a slow and calm manner. Do not make a bunch of noise that will startle the dog. Remember you’re still unfamiliar so it’s best not to spook anyone by acting weird or threatening. It is best to let the dog approach you,
Pay attention to the dog’s body language throughout your meeting. If the dog moves away from you, or begins to exhibit signs of unrest such as flattening their ears or growling, then you need to give the dog space and either let them walk away or walk away yourself. Don’t try to chase the dog down if they decide to leave the interaction.
If all seems to be going well, and the dog seems interested in you, and the owner says it is okay you can go ahead with trying to pet the dog. However, it is not a good idea to pet near the head or the mouth. You’re still basically a stranger and a dog might become nervous and bite if you get too close to their face. Instead, stroke their sides and shoulder area. Don’t smother the dog with physical affection. Count three or four pets, and then stop. This will give the dog time to move away if it doesn’t want to be touched any more. Likewise, if the owner ends the interaction, listen to them and step back. There is likely a good reason that they are telling you to stop petting their dog. A dog’s owner knows them better than anyone else and you should respect the owner’s decision.
You must remember that some dogs find strangers really scary, and may have absolutely no interest in meeting a new person, and if that is the case you should accept that, and move on. It’s nothing personal, and both the dog and the owner should be able to end their interaction with you at any time. Respect the dog’s choice to interact.
It is completely understandable to want to run up to pet a new dog. They are furry, and cute, and many people see them as social animals, partially because many dog owners bring their dogs everywhere, but you should always stop and think before you try to say “Hello.” Follow the above advice, always remember to approach slowly and calmly, and to respect both the owner’s and the dog’s agency in any potential interaction and you’ll have nothing to worry about.
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