“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 their 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 arms 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 a 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 it 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.