You’ve had those creepy encounters with people who invade your personal space. Maybe it was a party when someone stood a little too close. Remember when you were a little kid and that one aunt you hardly ever saw insisted on patting you on the head? It’s an uncomfortable feeling. And it is no different for dogs.
Dogs, like people, have their own personal space and don’t appreciate strangers encroaching on it. Just because a dog is out in public, does not mean he loves every person on the planet. Like people, some dogs are more social than others. The best thing to do when you see an adorable dog in public is to tell the owner how beautiful their dog is and keep going.
However, if you feel compelled to interact with the dog the first thing to do, even before you approach the dog, is ask the owner for permission to interact with his pet. And don’t be offended if the owner says no.
There are many reasons why someone may not want you to pet their dog. Perhaps the dog is in training and should not be distracted from his work. Or, maybe the dog has a painful spot and can be touchy about where he is petted. Possibly the owner is in a hurry and only has a few minutes to get her dog out and exercised. Whatever the reason, if the owner asks you not to pet their dog, be respectful of that.
If the owner says okay, then you need to ask the dog if he’s okay with you petting him. Here are some etiquette tips for greeting a strange dog. Approach the dog in an arc, not head on, and kneel down several feet away. Orient yourself so you are not facing the dog and avoid direct eye contact as that can indicate a threat in dog language. Then see if the dog approaches you. If so, then move slowly to pet them on the chest, side or back. Or better, ask the owner where the dog’s favorite scratch spot is. Extending your hand over the dog is intimidating, so no patting on the head. And never hug or restrain a strange dog. If the dog does not approach you, then just leave him be and move on.
If you have a child that would like to pet a strange dog, it’s extremely important that you get the dog owner’s permission and coach your child in the correct way to approach a dog. Even the most social dog can be spooked by the fast, unpredictable movement of a child.
Dogs in public spaces have just as much right to anonymity as people do. You wouldn’t walk up to a perfect stranger and start patting their head and ruffling their clothes just because they are walking down the sidewalk. That’s creepy! Same goes for dogs!