how (not) to approach dogs
Yesterday I committed one of the cardinal sins of approaching unknown dogs, which reminded me of one of the most oft-flouted rules. You should never pat a dog you're not familiar with on the head. This rule is often forgotten, because it feels natural to give dogs a friendly head pat. Even people who spend a lot of time around dogs might forget this, because familiar dogs likely tolerate this behavior without aggression.
So, what should you do instead? This is what Sarah Bartlett recommends in (with some additions of my own):
- Ask the owner if you can pet the dog. If it's a stray, I would advise not approaching it at all and giving it a wide berth instead.
- If the owner consents, approach the dog from the side and lower yourself to their level.
- Let the dog decide whether it wants to come to you (or not). Don't violate its personal space.
- Offer your hand to the dog. If the dog sniffs your hand and is generally friendly, it's safe to pet the dog.
You should always pet a dog gently, and good places to do it are under the chin, at the base of the neck, the chest, and the shoulders.