petting someone's dog

Why You Should Ask Before Petting Someone’s Dog


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Should you ask before petting someone’s dog? Almost all doggos are cute, fluffy, and friendly – so if they look happy surely there’s no harm in it…? Actually, there can be. That’s why it’s good practice to always ask permission.

As animal lovers we know it takes an immense amount of self restraint to stop yourself from petting doggos that wander near when you’re out and about. We’re not saying you can’t, just that you really should ask first. Let’s go over why this can be so important.

petting someone's dog

Safety, both yours and theirs

If you haven’t had to learn the hard way why you should ask before petting someone’s dog, then take our word for it that you’d rather not have to.

Some dogs are anxious

Being out in public surrounded by people, cars, strange noises and unfamiliar things can cause anxiety for some dogs. If you startle a dog or get too close too quickly you’ll force them to defend themselves the only way they know how. 

Some dogs aren’t affectionate

Then there’s the fact that not all dogs are interested in getting affection from a stranger. There are many reasons for this; it could be because of anxiety issues, or being overly protective of their human parent.

Some dogs are aggressive

Some pooches have aggression issues you don’t know about or are rescue dogs still suffering from bad treatment in the past. (On that note, read our ‘do dangerous dogs have to wear collars by law?‘ article)

Some dogs are in training

Also, some dogs may be in the process of being trained for something. They could be undertaking positive reinforcement dog training for obedience purposes or training to be a therapy or support dog. You petting them will only distract them from their goals.

All these reasons make it a bad idea to pet a stranger’s dog.

petting someone's dog

What’s the right way to start petting someone’s dog?

Many of us have been taught that the best way to go about petting a dog is to stretch out your hand so the dog can sniff it. After that, we can go ahead and pet them on their heads. This has been said to give the dog the chance to get to know you and interact with you before you pat them.

However, this is not necessarily the correct way. An outstretched hand can be threatening to a dog and may lead to them backing away or worse, biting.

Take these tried and tested steps

A recent viral post by dog trainer Tamar Geller details the correct way to petting someone’s dog:

  • First off, ask the owner’s permission. For all the reasons listed above, it’s important to check first and foremost whether you can interact with their dog
  • While you’re talking to the owner, stand straight with your hands next to your sides. As you talk, the dog will show interest in you if they so wish. This will include sniffing you or bunting your hand and wagging their tail.
  • Don’t make eye contact. Some dogs see this as threatening or wanting to fight, while others could be intimidated or scared by it. Instead, keep your eyes on the owner.
  • If it’s okay with the owner, you can now go ahead and give the dog a few slow and gentle pats on their back. Don’t pat their head! If the dog seems happy with this, you can continue petting them.
  • Don’t push the limits. Keep the interaction short and sweet and take your cue from the dog to see whether they want more petting or not.

This method of petting someone’s dog is less intrusive and stressful to the animal and gives them the choice if they want to be petted or not. It will also reduce the chance of being bitten or nipped at.

person holding black white and brown short coated dog

Petting someone’s assistance dog is a big no

Service or assistance dogs are doggos that have been specifically trained and qualified to support a person living with a disability.

These include guide dogs for the blind as well as dogs that help people living with physical disabilities such as quadriplegia and cerebral palsy, and dogs that provide support for people with autism and post traumatic stress disorder (plus many other conditions).

The best way to think about this is that service dogs are working. They’re there to ensure their humans are safe and that’s their main priority. You wouldn’t ask to pet the pilot who’s focusing on landing the plane, so think of service dogs the same way. Read up more about why you shouldn’t pet an assistance dog here.

You don’t need permission to get dog insurance

Life with dogs is full of wonder and surprise. We’ve learned many times that dog insurance plans will make all the difference when a medical mishap happens. 

And if your furball enjoys getting into other people’s things, you might want to consider third party liability pet insurance. This can cover damage your pet does to other people’s property – whether that’s spilling their coffee onto their brand new laptop or chewing up their favourite sneakers. 

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