How to Pet a Dog You Don’t Know
Thanks aspcapetinsurane.com for the photo
So there I was this weekend at my husband’s company picnic.
I am not as great with people as I am with animals and dogs, so a mass group of humans that I don’t know socializing is always a little bit uncomfortable for me.
The skies were dark and the rain was hard, thank goodness we had a nice building to be in for most of the festivities.
As hour 3 came and the weather let up I noticed a younger couple with a puppy emerge.
If I was a betting man, I would bet that the puppy was 4 to 5 months old and his owners were oblivious to his behaviors.
I sat in awe, just watching him and his interaction with both his environment and people as they came and went.
People were dressed in rain gear, children were running with umbrellas and quite frankly the puppy was quite overwhelmed at several moments throughout the picnic although no one but me noticed.
At one point a 2 year old child was running around squealing with an umbrella, toward and around the puppy.
Neither the Mother or the Dog Owner Took Notice…
Neither the mother nor the dog owner took notice, however the puppy barked at the child because he was unsure about the child and what was going on; still no one took notice.
I was taken aback. I thought at the threat of barking both the child’s parents and the dog owner would at least look down to try and figure out why the dog was barking but neither did.
The puppy eventually acclimated to the child running around and stopped barking; but I wondered how close he would be to his bite threshold if the child wandered too close (don’t worry the child was never closer than 10 feet from the end of the puppy’s leash). I think he would have been much closer to it at the beginning of course when he was scared of the child.
I watched as person after person came up to “pet the puppy”. Several scared him and he would take a few steps backward toward the legs of his owner; but she never stopped them from then petting him and none of them seemed to stop at his clear show of nervousness.
Sometimes 3 or more people would be petting him at once, and again no notice from his owner… she was engrossed in her conversation.
Thankfully he seemed to eventually accept them and never nipped at anyone. Backing up and trying to get away and barking was as close to aggression as he got.
I think I saw only one person pet him appropriately, kneeling down to his level, letting him sniff her hands and then petting him on his chest. He LOVED her! His tail wagged when she bent down and he got squishy face (for more on squishy face click here).
He did jump on her, at which time he was reprimanded harshly, but she was the only one to speak to him kindly and on his level.
I watched one middle age man, first bend over the top of him (to which he darted back), then quickly reach over the top of his head, pet him and then grab the skin on the side of his ribs grab it and shake it…
I seriously have no idea what he was thinking… Who does that?
Thankfully this seemed to be a pretty good and accepting puppy. Despite his nervousness, pushing him past his level of confidence didn’t seem to push him into aggression.
There are a lot of puppies or other dogs that would have gotten to a much more aggressive point a lot faster than this puppy, but that reminded me how can you tell?
How Can You Tell Which Puppy or Dog will be Pushed to Aggression and Which Puppy Will Not?
Even I have a hard time, unless the dog is pushed past that comfortable point into the unknown.
Some dogs will growl, others show teeth as they become increasingly uncomfortable but as noted by this owner, if the owner is not paying attention you might be in for a bite. For more on why a growl can be a good thing click here.
Not all dogs give huge warning signals before they bite, some barely give acknowledgement with their eyes as they quick look away and then bite (commonly known as the “whale eye”).
I guess I see backing up, barking and signs of stress as information to back off and not proceed forward.
How Do You or Your Kids Pet a Dog
First never pet a dog without asking, he may seem like he wants to be petted at first but he may decide later he doesn’t want it for more on that phenomenon click here I Really Want You to Pet me; But I Kinda Want to Bite You.
On a personal note, while out running just 2 days ago I had a child run up to me and my puppy who had just finished swimming. Swimming is stressful for him right now because he is afraid of water, although we are working through it.
The child who was about 8 ran straight at us and said nothing. For a moment I thought about reprimanding him and telling him to “ask” before petting. But I decided to see how my pup would do (you can’t take all the irritating kids out of a dog’s environment, so sometimes I take advantage of them).
My pup was fine and put up with a quick hand shot over his head and a squeal of happiness as the child then ran away. But he was a guinea pig, thankfully I know dog body language, but good parents would keep their children from doing this!
I, personally, never pet a dog unless he or she solicits it from me. I want to see a dog that is pulling on his leash, low wagging and has squishy face. For more on tail wags click here, and more on squishy face click here.
I do really take tail wags and squishy face into account before I want to pet a dog, but you’ll have to read those articles to understand that.
I don’t care if the dog pulls toward me to jump on me (unless of course I deem it aggressive in some way), I DO CARE if he pulls back or tries to get away AT ALL.
I am not going to force a dog to be petted. A dog that steps back or away is a dog that is uncomfortable, and in my humble opinion I am going to give him his space. He is giving me “flight” instead of “fight” and I don’t want to push him to feel like he needs “fight” or aggression.
Because I am a professional dog trainer and I occasionally have to make friends with a dog that doesn’t want to have a lot to do with me; I then go into sweet talk mode and try to sweet talk these dogs out of their fears.
However I don’t recommend just anyone petting these dogs, sometimes giving them their space is all they need to come back with happy tail and squishy face.
I NEVER Reach Over A Dog’s Head
I Never reach over a dog’s head when first meeting him. That instance of not knowing where your hand is going and not being able to see it is uncomfortable for some dogs.
I let a dog sniff the outside of my hand first until he seems comfortable and solicitous of affection (don’t do it for a fraction of a second and then reach) actually pay attention to his eyes, his face, his tail and his body language don’t just let him sniff and then reach.
Next I pet a dog’s chest first.
Quick movements make dogs nervous! Talk slowly, speak kindly and move slowly and with calm intent.
Only let one person pet at a time!
6 hands on you are overwhelming. Imagine going to the gym and having 3 people touching you… One person can be overwhelming enough; don’t expect your dog or someone else’s to be okay with multiple hands moving all over them.
It can only take a fraction of a second to send a confident dog into a panic with an extra set of hands.
Always PAY ATTENTION!
Never pet a dog that you don’t know while distracted by something else. He may get scared by something in his environment or change his mind about being petted and if you aren’t paying attention you won’t notice! Give him your full attention!
Always keep your wits about you. Dogs have big teeth and they don’t speak our language; their intentions and emotions can change very quickly.
Most of the time most dogs like to be petted and are social, but occasionally there are dogs that aren’t as clear headed and it is best to be prepared for them before they teach you a lesson with their teeth.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.