We’ve all been there. You’re out and about, and there’s a super cute doggo, and you just want to go right up to it and give it pats and say “Who’s a good boy, then?”
As tempting as it is, this isn’t always the safest idea, for you or for the dog. Here are a few tips on safety with dogs who don’t know you!
If the dog is alone, without an owner, do not approach the dog. No matter how cute it is, you have no way of knowing how it might react to a stranger. Some dogs have experienced traumas and abuse, some have aggressive tendencies, some are simply wary of unknown humans. If it looks like it might be a stray, let your local council or animal shelter know about it, and follow their advice. You could also post on a local Facebook group or similar letting people know where you saw it, in case the poor thing is lost and somebody is looking for it.
If the dog is with its owner, always ask permission before trying to touch it – especially if you’ve got children with you! If the owner says no, it’s important to respect that; the owner knows the dog better than you do, and knows how it is likely to respond. But if you get lucky and they say yes, you should still take some precautions:
- Don’t look the dog in the eye, as this can be interpreted as a threat or challenge.
- Some dogs find hats and sunglasses unsettling, so removing them if possible will help the dog feel more comfortable with you.
- Try not to be afraid, as dogs will sense your fear and can become agitated by it. Calmness and quiet will go a long way to establishing trust.
- Squat or crouch beside it, not in front of it or looming over it, and hold out your hand towards it with a loosely closed fist. This is a non-threatening and non-aggressive signal for the dog, and if it does happen to nip at you, it is easier for you to withdraw your hand quickly without losing a finger!
- Let the dog come to you if it wants to, let it sniff your hand and figure you out. If the dog seems reluctant, don’t pressure it, never try to chase or force an unwilling dog to be touched.
- When you and the dog are comfortable with each other, pat it gently on the shoulder, neck, or chest, not on top of its head.
- If you need to step back from the dog for any reason, rise slowly and turn your back on it without making eye contact to avoid appearing confrontational.
If you’re out and about with your own dog, please don’t presume that other dogs – or other people – will react favourably to it. Your dog might be super friendly and get on well with others, but the same might not be true of other animals or humans. It is also important to keep your dog on a leash in areas where that is signposted as the rule, for its own safety and that of other users of public areas. Keep an eye on the length of your leash, and ensure it is appropriate for your location; a shorter leash is better for crowded areas.
If the dog is a working dog of any sort, such as a seeing eye dog or anxiety dog, do not make any attempt to touch it or talk to it. That dog is doing a job and its owner relies on it not being distracted. These dogs are usually easily identifiable by their harness or vest, as well as by their behaviour and that of their owner. If you’re in any doubt as to whether it is a service dog or not, it’s best to err on the side of caution and leave it alone.
I know this article seems like a big list of “No!”, but these tips are for your safety and that of other members of the public and their pets. The aim here isn’t to be a killjoy, but to avoid potentially dangerous situations. It is especially important to teach these pet safety tips to children so that they can become comfortable around strange animals and avoid injury and stress for both themselves and the dog.
Hopefully this information will enable you to enjoy interactions with your local neighbourhood doggos on a safe and respectful basis. Now go and have a great walk, and put these into action!