May I Pet Your Dog? – Preventing Dog Bites



dog getting pet image
Not every dog wants to be pet at any given time. Watch for the signals that say it’s okay to pet me.


“May I pet your dog”  – This simple phrase is important not only to teach children, but to remember yourself.  All too often people approach dogs, who look so innocent, and just reach out and pet them without asking.  As a pet parent, you might have had this happen as your heart stops as a stranger reaches out before you have a chance to say “wait”. You panic that all will be okay and your dog will not nip or bite.  If only people would give a moment of respect, and ask before approaching, so many bites and nips could be prevented.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of dogs who have always been so well behaved and then one day they bite someone. Preventing dog bites is easy with these simple steps:

  • Teach children to never run up to a dog and just start hugging him or reaching out. This is a recipe for disaster in many situations. Dogs get scared of people suddenly entering his territory and can respond in less than friendly ways.
  • Always ask “May I pet your dog?”. In response someone might say “he’s pretty shy, so no, I don’t think you should today”. Be sure to respect that.  They are telling you “no” for a reason.  If a dog is alone, it’s always best to not just reach out and pet him.
  • If the pet parent says, “yes, you may pet him”, approach slowly and calmly with your arm stretch out in a fist so the dog can first sniff the back of your hand. If you see any teeth, bulging of eyes or firming up of the dog’s body, just bring your hand back and don’t proceed to pet.

Signs a dog is okay to pet include:

  • Wagging tail
  • Tail turned up, not tucked in
  • Dog approaching you and wanting to lick or lean into you

Signs a dog does not want to be pet include:

  • Bulging eyes with the whites showing
  • Snarled up snout
  • Teeth showing
  • Tail tucked in

It’s also important to remember that a dog who is in his parent’s arms being carried, or perhaps sitting in a shopping cart going around at the store, is often in “protective mode”, so it’s especially important to ask before petting in these situations.

The Yellow Dog Project – If you see a dog wearing a yellow ribbon or bandana tied to his leash, this is to let you know that particular dog likes to have his space and should not be approached. It’s a trend that some pet parents have taken on, but not everyone knows about.  It definitely does not mean if the dog does not have a yellow ribbon or bandana on, it’s safe to approach, but if does definitely mean that if you see a dog wearing one, let him have his space and if you are walking another dog, do not take your dog up to sniff him.  The pet parent is letting you know this dog likes to protect his territory.

Service dogs should not be approached while they are working.  They have a job to do and as tempting as it may be to ask if you can pet one, you should respect that they have a job to do and leave them to do it.

There are a variety of reasons a dog might not want to be pet, so don’t take it personally or think he’s a bad dog.  It’s possible the dog is older and has aches and pains, he could be feeling protective or perhaps just not feeling all that great that day, or he might just not enjoy being pet by someone, whether he knows them or not.

Socializing your dog when he is a puppy, or going through a Canine Good Citizen Course, at any age, will help your dog be more approachable. Your dog will learn how to interact with a variety of humans and other dogs, which will set him up for success.  But remember, even with the best socialization and training, observing and respecting signals is the only true way to prevent a bite.



Gentle Leaders May Not Be So Gentle – A Better Way to Stop the Pulling

 loose leash walking image

Loose leash walking makes going for walks an enjoyable and bonding experience.

One of the first things pet parents do when they find their dog is taking them for a walk (or maybe a run is the more appropriate word as the pet parent is being pulled down the street) is to go to the store and buy head collar such as the Gentle Leader or Halti.  A head collar fits over the dog’s muzzle, very much the same idea as a horse halter. The head collar is attached to a leash underneath the muzzle.  As the dog moves forward, once he has reached the end of his leash, pressure is applied and as a result the dog stops pulling.

Some people really like the head collar as an alternative to prong collars, Martingales or choke chains, but it is potentially very harmful to your dog. Worn as suggested, the collar fits pretty snug, holding the muzzle shut and there is a lot of pressure at the top of the muzzle just under the dog’s eyes.  A Halti works much the same way as the Gentle Leader but has an extra strap that is supposed to help keep the strap from pulling into the eyes.  With either product, when a dog is running forward and reaches the end of the leash, his head is snapped to the side which discourages the pulling. Between the pressure and snapping his head to the side, the pain gets the dog to stop the behavior, but in the meantime some serious neck injury could occur.

When you see the muzzle of a dog that has been wearing a head collar for years, you can often see where the bone has become concave from the wear of pressure applied.  Also, it’s not uncommon to see dogs who wear a Gentle Leader or Halti with fur that is worn all the way off at the top of their muzzle at the pressure point.  Can you tell we are not fans of the head collar?

So what is the best way to control pulling?  Work with your dog and teach him to not pull.  With a little training your dog can learn loose leash walking and heeling.   With both, your dog should stay next to you (or at least not too far ahead),  matching the your direction and speed.  These methods are the only reliable way of stopping a dog from pulling.  With positive reinforcement, patience and regular practice, he will walk calmly beside you, not taking you for a walk, but walking together.

Does your dog show signs of separation anxiety?

Does your dog go a little too crazy when you are away?  It could be a sign of separation anxiety.  We all want our dogs to be jumping with joy whenever they see us because it makes us feel loved and important.  But if the stress of you being away is causing problems, it’s time to address what is really going on inside your dog’s head.

Dogs are pack animals and they want the pack to stay together.  If you notice your dog gets carried away whenever someone enters or leaves the pack, there’s a good chance your dog experiences separation anxiety while you are away. Dogs have very extreme emotions around the importance of the pack.  Togetherness is how they sense security and the ways things should be.

Here are of the things your dog might do if he’s experiencing separation anxiety:

  • Chewing on the furniture
  • Crying or barking excessively
  • Digging or trying to escape
  • Marking the house excessively with urine or poop
  • Pacing the floor

To help your dog adapt to the fact that you need to leave the house, the first thing you will want to do is eliminate the drama around you leaving.  No long goodbyes and a million kisses before you depart.  Try to make your coming and going nonchalant without any emotion of sadness or overjoy.  Your goal is to desensitize your departures and arrivals so your dog sees them as neutral.  Try ignoring your dog for about 15 minutes before you leave the house as well as after you get home. No high voiced “hello” when you walk through the door.  Just be neutral and calm.  Pretty soon your dog will see that your absences are nothing to get worried about.

Try offering a distraction for your dog to think about when you leave.  Treat dispensing balls are a great way to get your dog to associate your leaving with something positive.

Make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise during the day.  Most dogs require at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.  If it’s too hard for you to fit that into your routine, consider taking your dog to a doggie daycare at least a few days a week.   Doggie daycare also offers your dog a way to be a part of a secondary pack, which eliminates anxiety of being alone.

Some dogs respond well to having watching DogTV, a cable TV channel available by subscription.  The channel was designed to help dogs overcome loneliness, anxiety and depression. They play calming music and show images of puppies and nature and things your dog loves.

You can also try music that was designed specifically for dogs.  iCalm Pet offers a music player for you to leave on while you are away.  You can also find plenty of albums on iTunes and Spotify. There is also an All Dog Radio available at  You could also just try playing some calming classical music or spa/meditation music.

Keeping your dog happy when you are home is also an important part of overcoming separation anxiety.  Take a class together, keep your dog’s mind engaged and keep him active.  A tired dog is a happy dog.

There are various calming herbs, collars, dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) plug-ins and medications that some dogs might need, but try behavior related solutions first.  If they don’t work, Adaptil plug-in diffusers are a good thing to try next, then the collars, then perhaps an herb or calming treat your vet recommends.  Use a medication only as a last resort.

Doggie Daycare could very well be a solution that works best for your dog.  It’s a great way to keep your dog engaged, allow him to feel part of another pack while you are gone, your house stays clean and unharmed and your dog gets his daily dose of exercise.  It’s not the only solution, but it is one that works for many.


Finding a Doggie Daycare or Boarder You Can Trust

doggie daycare image
Finding a great doggie daycare is an important part of being a dog parent.

For most of us pet parents, sooner or later we need the services of a doggie daycare or boarding facility.  Even for those of us who try to include our dogs in everything we do, situations come up where are in need of having someone we trust take care of our dog.  Whether it’s for a few hours, a few days or a few weeks, it’s important to know what to look for in a facility so your dog is safe and comfortable.



For a lot of people, the cost is the bottom line.  Be sure you understand what is included in the cost.  Some places charge extra for things like belly rubs or individual attention.  When you compare total services, you might be surprised at what some places consider extras and other places consider a staple of good service.



Around the Clock Supervision

Problems occur at every hour of the day and night, not just during business hours.  It’s important that someone be on site 24/7 in case of an emergency of any kind.  Many places have someone on site only during business hours.  Too much can go wrong after 6pm to have your dog left alone waiting for someone to show up at 7am.  Find a place that has someone on site at every hour and who is trained to handle emergencies of all types.



What kind of play will your dog engage in during the day?  Will someone interact with your dog if he isn’t so interested playing with the other dogs?  What if your dog is shy and just in need of some cuddle time.  How much time will your dog have during the day to exercise? What is the staff to dog ratio?


Air Quality

Does the kennel have a good air filtration system?  When you visit the kennel, does it smell doggy?  Is there a smell of cleaning chemicals?  What about a fragrance?  Chemical smells and perfumes can be harmful to your dog.  Look for a place that has a good filtration system.  You shouldn’t smell anything when you walk in.



What type of security and fencing is in place?  You want to see at least two gates or doors between the dogs and the street. Do they use cameras to monitor the dogs and that you can log into and watch your dog?

Quality Staff

What type of people work at the facility? What is the average employee tenure?  Do they seem happy and like they are treated well?  Are they trained in dog behavior? Do they know how to respond if something goes wrong?  Is the facility licensed and bonded?


Parking Lot Observation

You might want to consider pulling into the parking lot and watching how dogs respond during drop off and pick up.  Do they seem happy and excited to arrive?


Trial Run

Before leaving your dog for a week while you go on vacation, do a trial run.  Drop your dog off for a few hours while you do some errands and see how your dog responds.  If that goes well, try leaving him for a day.  It’s a good idea to get your dog used to the environment so it’s easier for him to adapt to being there for a longer time.


Finding a daycare/kennel that you trust is worth the extra effort.  Asking for referrals is always a good place to start.  Read online reviews and pay attention to how the management responds to criticism.  Visit a few different places in person and compare how they look, smell and feel.  Talk to the staff and watch how they interact with your dog.  It can take a little work to find a good boarder, but the peace of mind of knowing your dog is safe is very much worth it. Start early and establish a relationship so when you are truly in need, you have a go-to place that you and your dog are comfortable with.