This article appears in Pets 2018 magazine.
Since most of them are so doggone cute, it’s hard to pass a dog on the street without saying hello. An unfamiliar dog may look cuddly, but an unwanted greeting can lead to barking, growling or even biting.
“Always train children to ask for permission before approaching a dog,” said Dr. Justine Lee, emergency critical care veterinary specialist and author of “It’s a Dog’s Life ... but It’s Your Carpet.” “Some dogs may be fearful or reactive. Approaching a dog the correct way can minimize the risk of being bitten.”
Think like a dog
One of the biggest mistakes people make when greeting a dog is reaching over its head, which can be interpreted as a sign of dominance, Lee said.
Instead, try a more submissive approach.
“Don’t look a dog directly in the eyes. Slowly put your hand out,” Lee said. If the dog seems happy and open to being pet, slowly stroke the dog’s side near its heart at elbow level or its underbelly, Lee said.
While people should avoid direct eye contact, Lee said to keep your eyes on the dog and be aware of its body language. Avoid petting if a dog turns, moves away or looks scared or nervous.
Not the hair
Like people, many dogs don’t want to be patted on the head, Lee said. They may put up with it, but they probably don’t like it much. They also would rather be petted not patted, Lee said.
“Undiagnosed ear infections are a common problem I see often at my practice, and that’s another reason to avoid petting a dog’s head,” she said. Avoid the ears because it might be painful to the dog.
Save the hug
Hugging may be a sign of affection for people, but many dogs are uncomfortable with such close, tight contact, Lee said. Because dogs don’t have arms, wrapping their front legs around another dog is a sign of dominance.
“Never pet a dog if there is no owner present. Don’t do it unless you know the owner and have asked permission. The dog may be territorial and bite,” Lee said.
In the service
It is never acceptable to pet a service dog, Lee said. Service dogs are working and should not be distracted. That means no petting, talking to it or trying to get its attention.
Many service dogs will have a special vest, harness or identification to distinguish them, but it is not required by law, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Unfortunately, it is common for people to buy fake vests or patches to allow their pets access to grocery stores, restaurants and other places pets are not allowed, Lee said.
“It’s one of my pet peeves. If you are allowed to pet someone’s ‘service’ dog, it’s a fake ‘service’ dog,” Lee said.
Owners know their pets best. If an owner says “no” to a petting request, do not pet his dog.
“Even the best trained dog can bite when scared or uncertain,” Lee said.