May I pet your dog?

I love walking Daisy in our neighbourhood and taking her to local parks, particularly our dog parks.  And what I really appreciate is when a child or adult approaches us and asks, “May I pet your dog?”

I always praise a child who asks me before touching Daisy, “Thanks for asking and yes – she’s very friendly.”  Teaching children how to approach a dog is a very important life skill.  A dog who isn’t friendly, or who has sore spots, may bite someone who touches it.  In addition, a child is on eye-level with a dog and so they can inadvertently challenge the dog with direct eye contact and – in the dog’s view – a too aggressive approach.

Daisy loves being petted anywhere on her body but,  generally, it is useful to teach children to pet a dog over its shoulder area and then with long, slow strokes down the body.  An approach to the head (at least initially) can be too much for some dogs.

Other key points:

#1 – Allow the dog to approach you, not the other way around.  Stand still and look down (away from the dog) which is less challenging to the dog. Let your hands fall loosely to the sides of your body with open palms and relaxed fingers.

#2 –  Let the dog sniff you.  This is its way of taking in information about you (remember that a dog has 250 million scent receptors in its nose and it can take in scents from a greater distance than we can).

#3 – Don’t reach for the dog or bend over it.  These motions are too aggressive for most dogs and even reserved or shy dogs may react.

#4 Respect the dog’s wishes if it doesn’t approach to interact with you or your child or shows signs of stress.

#5 For small dog owners, I generally advise  against holding your dog in your lap.  The dog will naturally have more of a protective instinct in this position, guarding you against harm, and feeling also that it is ‘trapped’ if it doesn’t like the person that is approaching.

#6  Watch the mouth!  A dog who licks its lips, pants a lot or yawns a lot is showing signs of discomfort.

#7  If your dog is going to have small children in its life, you can de-sensitise it by getting it used to having its ears, face and tail touched.  Regardless of how much we train people to avoid these areas with ‘strange’ dogs, these are naturally parts of the dog’s body that people are attracted to.

#8  Be prepared to accept a ‘no’ answer from the dog’s owner.  The owner knows their dog the best and there may be reasons for their refusal – some dog owners are more willing to share these reasons with others as part of saying no, others not.

If you have a child in your life that is simply dog-crazy, then here’s a picture book that will teach them the essential skills in approaching a new dog.  It’s May I Pet Your Dog?  The How-To Guide for Kids Meeting Dogs (and Dogs Meeting Kids) by Stephanie Calmenson.  Another book to add to your Christmas shopping list!

Using Harry the Dachshund, this book shows your child the ‘right’ way to approach a dog.

2 responses to “May I pet your dog?

  1. Great post! I have taught my boys to ask first then WAIT until they actually get an answer of “yes” before touching a dog we don’t know. We have two older German Shepard mixes that are really quite good with my boys and it is hard to explain to them that some dogs are not friendly with or may be scared of kids.

  2. Great advice here 🙂 I do the exact same thing with my dog, a great dane. A lot of children are scared of her at first because of her size, and I often encourage them to say hello because I know she is the biggest softy of all time, and a good experience can help children learn that a dog isn’t always scary under the correct circumstances. The problem I normally have is with adults. My dog was abused as a puppy and she has reacted quite badly to fully grown adult men suddenly reaching down to pet her!

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