What would you do if you were standing in line at the grocery store and a stranger came up to you, stood uncomfortably close and reached over your eyes to touch your head? Would you smile and say hello? I’d venture to guess that you’d get upset. You might just step back in stunned disbelief, trying to decide if this stranger meant you any harm. And what would happen if, when you moved away, the stranger reached for you again? Now, imagine how you’d feel if you were unable to move away because you were restrained with a collar around your neck. Unnerving, right? And what if a tall man stood six inches from your face and leaned over you to ask you your name? You wouldn’t enjoy that, would you? Well, guess what?We dogs don’t enjoy it either.
The first rule in petting a dog is securing the owner’s permission. Be prepared to take “no” for an answer and don’t get offended. If your desire to pet unknown dogs is so strong that you can’t take “no” for an answer, I suggest you visit your local shelter and pet all the dogs there to your heart’s content. Those attention starved dogs will be more than happy to welcome visitors.
Once you get the green light to pet the dog that you’ve only just met, let the dog approach you. A word of advice, dogs generally don’t enjoy being towered over, so don’t lean forward. Stand upright or squat down, and don’t pursue the dog if he shows no interest. Not every dog has the Golden Retriever’s desire to make eighty-seven new friends a day. However, if the dog shows interest and approaches you, let him sniff you. That doesn’t mean that you should shove your fist in his face for him to smell it. Just stand there, or squat, normally and watch for his invitation to pet him. If you’re unclear as to what a dog looks like when inviting you to pet him, then don’t pet him. Keep walking, there’s nothing to see here.
Let’s say that you’ve received the much anticipated invitation to make contact. Please don’t reach over the dog’s eyes to touch him on top of the head. Remember how you felt at the supermarket? No one likes that. Granted there are dogs whose desire to be petted makes them more tolerant of certain indiscretions (see Golden Retriever mention above), but in general we don’t like it. Instead, pet the dog on the side of the face and/or under the chin. You can also pet him on the back, if he’s turned his side to you. If you’re squatting down, resist the urge to grab his face in your hands to pull him closer. And, whatever you do, never put your own face in an unknown dog’s face. Would you appreciate it if a stranger put their face in yours? Then show us the same courtesy.
If the dog in question is blessed with upright ears, such as yours truly, do not stroke, caress or otherwise manhandle them. Please don’t touch them at all, especially if he is still a puppy or adolescent. Upright ears are delicate and can easily be broken. Plus, what are you trying to ascertain when touching our ears? Touching someone’s ears is impolite, at best. We dogs are very sociable animals, but we are polite and expect politeness from others. When those “others” don’t have the manners that they should, we let them know in no uncertain terms. This sometimes gets us into trouble, especially when it comes to humans. Unfair as it sounds, humans expect us to be polite, even when they are being rude. Think about this the next time you meet a canine that you just have to put your grimy hands on.