“Can I pet your dog?” This is a question that many of us dog owners have experienced. With summer here, we tend to be out more with our dogs at the beach, trails, dog parks or out on walks. When we’re planning for these outings normally we’re thinking about if we have water packed, wax or booties for their paws on hot surfaces, and if your dogs are like mine they won’t let you forget about the treats. If you are doing these things, then anyone would say you’re watching out for your dog’s wellbeing. One thing we don’t usually think about is how they will do in different situations around other people. Even the friendliest of dogs can experience emotional discomfort. Understanding these signs can be read about in our past February 2018 blog on signs of aggression. Once you have reviewed that blog come back to read further into this one where we will help teach you how to let people pet your dog safely if they are not showing signs of aggression.
A Dog’s Focus
Veterinarians have studied what they call the correct way to pet a dog for years to better protect the mental state of dogs as well as prevent attacks on humans. Outside of the comfort of home any dog can react aggressively in a matter of a second if they feel threatened or confuse affection from a stranger with an “attack”. It is important to remember that dogs are often in their own world while out and their senses are usually focused on smelling different smells and exploring the environment, not on the people around them. Due to this it isn’t uncommon for a dog to get startled or think a hand is another dog attacking them. We’re not saying to never let anyone near your dog in fear they may react this way. Instead, you must understand how to get their attention and explain to strangers how to approach.
Some dogs may see a stranger and practically drag you to them so they can say hello and other dogs may be in their own world and not notice when a stranger comes over. In both situations it is important to not let your dog be in control. Human and dog partnerships have a dominant member that instills the correct manners, discipline and vibe for different times. The responsibility is on the owner to set situations up for the best behaviors and outcome. So, what do you do in these situations? Have your dog sit, this notifies them that you want their attention. If they keep losing focus with you carry out a few commands such as lay, then sit again until they are only interested in you. Once you have their attention you can move forward to taking in their aggression level. If no aggressive signs are being shown by their body language or verbally then you know it is most likely safe to let the stranger come pet your dog.
How to Pet my Dog
Now that you have your dog’s attention and have observed that no signs of aggression are showing talk to the person who wants to pet your dog before they start reaching their hand out. Ask them to slowly approach your dog with their hand out in a fist manner to allow the dog to sniff them. The importance of having their hand in a fist is to protect their fingers in case the dog snaps at them. If your dog shows no signs of aggression or recoiling away after they sniff the hand, you can tell the person that they may pet your dog under their chin. This is the safest place for a stranger to pet a dog as it comes off non challenging. If someone was to go for the head, neck or top of the body a dog may interpret these touches as attacks. This is because when other dogs attack they typically go for the top of the body.
If any signs of danger show with your dog remove them from the situation immediately. You can let the stranger know that your dog looks overwhelmed or my favorite line with one of my dogs “he is getting grumpy”. Be sure to praise your dog afterwards letting them know they did a good job. This will also help boost their confidence with strangers.
Knowledge is Best
When it comes to all animals understanding how to be around them can help prevent attacks and help make experiences around them enjoyable. For those who have not been around different animals before asking their owners how to approach and pet them is important. There is never a reason to feel uncomfortable for either ends when it comes to giving or asking knowledge about animal safety. Both parties need to remember animals are unpredictable and even the sweetest can react negatively. Dog owners remember to not assume your dog will like everyone and those who want to pet dogs never assume that just because the owner may say they are friendly to overwhelm the dog by coming at them strongly and fast. Slow and steady wins on both ends.