In the past, people would just reach out to your dog to pet it. Today’s world is more informed and allows for a quick “May I pet your dogs?” request. Unfortunately, once permission has been granted, the stranger quickly moves in close to the dog, looming over it, and swiftly thrusting a hand one inch away from its nose. If the owner pushes the dog forward, the owner might see how eagerly the dog wants it. The dog may then find a two-handed, enthusiastic ear jostle next.
Some dogs, such as the stereotypical Golden Retriever may be the right choice. This is what they have been waiting for. This extra attention could be their highlight of the walk. It is hard to imagine a family with more extroverted dogs than this.
Yet, comprehend we must. It’s true, very few dogs love being tied to a leash or touched by strangers. It’s not easy to understand that a quiet dog who is being petted might hate the time that the human is having. It’s important to realize that you are the stranger in the situation. However, it is crucial when you are the one pulling the leash.
DO NOT THINK DOGS WANT TO BE PETTED
Before you do the two-handed ear jostle, make sure to get consent! Photo Credits: Antoniodiaz / Dreamstime.com
Many wonderful dogs will not say hi to strangers. You might find them uninterested in strangers, wary, or scared. Sometimes, they are specially bred by humans to feel the emotions they have.
We humans love to pet dogs so much that we sometimes ignore this simple truth. Our belief system holds that all dogs are good and should be able to accept any kind of petting at any time. Dogs can choose to say no for many reasons.
Perhaps they’ve been bred to guard, so this forced interaction with strangers is deeply conflicting.Perhaps they’re simply more introverted and don’t enjoy this kind of socialization.Perhaps something in their background has made them less trusting of people.Perhaps normally they’d be all in, but today their ear hurts, or they are very distracted by the big German Shepherd staring at them from across the street.
There are many reasons that a dog may prefer not to interact with humans.
DON’T GIVE CONSENT ON BEHALF YOUR DOG
Recognizing how deeply dogs don’t want to be touched randomly is the first step in realizing that dogs should be asked, and not their handlers, if they would like to be petted. To safely pet a dog, we need their consent, not ours.
Perhaps the idea of giving dogs the right to consent to strangers feels strange to some. It feels creepy for me to deny my dog the right of consenting to be touched by strangers. It is wrong that I can say, “Sure, absolutely. You go ahead and touch this dog’s skin.” Isn’t she beautiful? She’s so beautiful, we all love to touch her.”
Dogs can’t answer the question “May I pet your dog?” verbally, but they do respond with their body language. Dogs are often subjected to routinely uncomfortable handling because they don’t know how to interpret subtle signals. Even worse, it often happens when they are being restrained with a leash and their owner allows it.
Dogs can become less fond of strangers and, worst of all, less trusting of their owners.
TIPS TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR DOG
When it comes to touching my dogs and when, I allow them agency. When someone asks me “May I pet your dog?” I smile at them and tell them that I would love to. Then, I show them:
You can offer your hand for a sniff. Instead of putting your fist in front of the dog (which society believes is polite), move your hand towards the dog to give her the option of moving closer or not. As she sniffs, she should look around to see if she is doing so in privacy.
This approach often gets us to a “yes” in less than 30 seconds even from shy dogs!
HOW TO DETECT IF YOUR DOG GIVES CONSENT
If the dog pulls towards the stranger with a relaxed, loose, or wiggly body it is saying yes. Great! Next, you can begin to pet the dog on the spot she is offering, likely her chest or rump. Many dogs consider a top-of the-head pat to be one of their “Top 10 Things That I Hate about Humans.”
If my dog doesn’t give me a quick or easy yes, I might back up and make conversation. Many dogs are more comfortable when they have had a chance to get to know a stranger. My dog might be offered treats, and I may feed him treats. It’s great if she relaxes and then leans in to the experience.
We can just move on if it doesn’t work out. This is also great, and this is crucial! No harm, no foul. There is no need to apologize for our dogs saying “No thanks.” We just have to keep moving.
The Problem with “May I Pet Your Dog?”
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