“May I pet your dog?” is music to my ears and a question I often hear my owner asked. I love to meet people and if I wasn’t a dog, I would say I’m a people person. In my travels I have had many opportunities to meet children, most of them pleasant. But once I was hit by a little girl whose mother assured my owner her daughter never did that to her own pets. I guess that girl had never been taught how to behave with strange dogs. I want everyone, no matter what their age, to know the right way to approach a strange dog, so I reached out to Gary Pietropaolo, a certified dog trainer who had worked with me when I was a pup.
He told me that if you love dogs and see a dog you’d like to pet, please ask the owner first. Not all dogs are used to being around children and the owner will know if it’s safe. If you have permission, listen for any special instructions. If the dog is approachable, walk over, but stand tall. Don’t squat or get low to the ground because, says Pietropaolo, that can spark aggression in a dog. And never crawl over to them. Put out your palm or a closed fist so the dog can sniff you. I don’t mind people petting my head, but most dogs do. So, pet the dog under its chin, not over the head; that can seem like a threat to a dog. Pet the side of the neck and chest, or along the back with gentle strokes. Don’t touch their eyes and ears and Pietropaolo warns, “Stay away from the sensitive flank area between the dog’s back legs.” What do you do if a dog gets feisty, jumpy and aggressive? Pietropaolo says, “Don’t scream if this happens, just freeze. Fold your arms and get stiff. That diffuses the dog’s excitement.”
I asked Pietropaolo what to do if a dog without its owner comes up to a child at a park or on the street. He says that the dog may look friendly, but it may not be. He had good advice about that too: “Don’t run or show fear if a stray dog approaches. Freeze, fold your arms and don’t touch it. Wait for an adult.”
Pietropaolo also recommends socializing your dog. “Hands down, acclimating your dog to a variety of situations and people is the best,” says Pietropaolo. My owner took me all over to get used to all kinds of people in every place you can imagine: from department stores to a building with an elevator and the train station. I encountered a variety of sights, sounds, scents and folks.
The next time you see a dog you want to pet, follow these recommendations for greeting a dog in a kind, caring and respectful way. In the end it can be mutually rewarding for you and the dog.