How to Pet a Stranger’s Dog, An Important Primer

Summer is back like srsly 4rl this time, and that means one thing: the dogs are OUT. It is heavy petting season in Toronto again, and every park, patio and tree-lined street is just brimming with cute dogs you’re gonna want to get right up to to let them know WHO’S A GOOD BOY.

Except, here’s the thing: not all dog owners are chill about their pets being petted. And not for no reason, either: these leash-wielders aren’t cuteness grinches, jealously hoarding their dogs away from prying hands, they are simply conscientious owners of shy, antsy, or possibly aggressive dogs, trying to keep them and you safe. I know we all learned this in elementary school, but it feels worth repeating: here are a few simple rules for safely hanging out with other people’s dogs.

1) Ask permission from a distance
Peepin’ a cute Chihuahua? Scopin’ a Spaniel? Diggin’ on a Dachshund? Ask its owner if the dog is friendly or likes to be petted. If there’s no owner, don’t approach—you don’t know this pup! If the owner is present and says it’s cool, head to step two.

2) Let the pup sniff it out for themselves
Get on their level, literally, by crouching down and letting the dog sniff your hand.  The message you want to be giving the dog is “hey dude, I’m a cool friend,” which means not moving too quickly, looming over them, or rushing to pat them when they’re not sure about you yet.

3) TOP TIP: Dogs that are into it will make it v. clear
If it seems like she’s just not that into you, she’s probably not. A dog who loves bellyrubs and head scratches from just about anybody will be very happy and eager, leaning into your hand, wagging their tail, meeting your eyes in a friendly way or rolling over for a tummy rub. If they seem hesitant or shy, today is probably not your day for a big pat-fest.

4) Don’t get hurt feelings if you can’t pet someone else’s dog
If the owner says no or the dog doesn’t seem to like you, it’s nothing personal. Many pups have histories of abuse or neglect that have left them understandably nervous around humans, especially ones they don’t know. Others get cagey while on a leash or protective of their owners. If you see a dog with a yellow ribbon on its collar, that’s an “admire from afar” situation, and with good reason. Respecting the boundaries of pets and their owners means that no one—you or the dog—ends up hurt by accident. There’s plenty of people-friendly pups out there, this is not your last chance to hang out with a dog.

So remember, with dogs as with people: no means no, respect their boundaries, tell them they’re cute if they seem into it but not otherwise. It’s called MANNERS, people.

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