By Ann Ensminger, Senior Director of Impact and Programs
Do you love dogs? I do! I have loved dogs since I was a little girl. When I am out for a walk, at the park or at a friend’s house, I am always happy to see dogs with their people. And, sometimes I have the chance to meet them or even pet them! But before I pet a dog, I need to find out if it is safe and if I am allowed.
If you see a dog that you might like to pet, here are some important things to remember:
- First, ask the grown-up who is with you if you are allowed to talk to the person with the dog, especially if the person is someone you do not know.
- If your grown-up says “yes,” then you have a very important question to ask the person with the dog. That question is, “may I please pet your dog?” Sometimes the person will say yes, and sometimes the person will say no.
- If you are told “no,” it is important to understand that this could be because the dog is afraid. Maybe the dog does not like to be petted or does not like strangers. When a dog is afraid, they may growl, snap or even bite. When a person tells you that you cannot pet their dog, they want their dog to feel safe and they also want you to be safe. If you are told “no,” the dog needs you to be respectful.
- If the person says “yes,” it is important to remember to remain still and calm and allow the dog to approach you. If the dog tells you that they want attention by coming closer to you, leaning in to your legs or nudging your hand, you can gently pet them on the chest or on the back. Keep listening while you are petting, because the dog’s owner may ask you to stop. Many dogs are afraid of being touched on the head, ears or belly – especially by strangers. Again, it is important for everyone to stay comfortable and safe. While you are petting the dog, they will feel more comfortable if you speak slowly with a quiet voice, and make slow strokes, back and forth, without picking your hand up off of the dog.
What if you see a loose dog? There may also be a time when you are out for a walk or at the park and you may see a dog without a person. This is most likely called a stray dog. Even though they may be friendly, stray dogs should never be petted. If you see a stray dog, you should not approach them and you should tell a grown-up. If the dog is very close to you, or comes up to you, you need to keep yourself safe. The best thing to do is to pretend you are a tree!
Freeze, stand still and quiet like a tree, cross your arms in front of your body, and look at your shoes. Trees are boring to dogs, and they will eventually ignore you and go away.
Remember not to run or scream … even if you are scared. The most important thing that you need to know about dogs is that they are excited by things that move or make noise. Dogs love to chase things. To stop a dog from chasing you or bothering you, the best thing to do is to stay still.
By remembering these tips and sharing them with your friends and family, you will be doing an important job in keeping dogs comfortable and people safe. And in the meantime, you will surely meet some wonderful dogs who are happy to let you pet them!