As an unabashed dog lover, it never fails to amaze me how parents of small children will encourage toddlers to go hug a strange dog that looks fuzzy and friendly and risk having their kids bitten – or worse. These same adults will walk right up and reach for the dog’s head without asking the owner, again risking getting bitten. The fact there are so few dog bites speaks volumes about the long-suffering nature of man’s best friend. However, when there is a bite, who is blamed? The dog, of course.
Few people – including lots of dog owners – have a clue about dog psychology or how dogs express comfort with strangers rushing them for a quick pat on the head.
NEWS FLASH: A wagging tail alone does not indicate “I like you.” Small, slow tail wags indicate uncertainty – not a great time to go rushing up to Bowser for a cuddle. In fact, large, fast wags can indicate both aggression and happiness.
So what’s a person to do? How about this novel thought? Keep your hands to yourself. Express your interest to the owner and seek permission to offer the back of your hand to the dog in question to see if s/he would like to make friends.
Think about it! Would you run up to some strange little kid and start handling them? What do you imagine Mom and Dad might do about that? Have you ever had an umbrella wrapped around your noggin? Dog owners are supposed to suck it up and bear it.
Let’s go one better. You see some really attractive person, walk up and run your hands through their hair. In the human world this is known as battery and the person being touched would be entitled to respond with equal force to get rid of your unwanted intrusion.
I never touch a dog without the permission of the owner. I start by offering the back of my hand to see if the dog has any interest other than a sniff. Some do, some don’t. Take your clue from the dog.
In an ideal world if a person intrudes on a strange dog and gets bitten it would be a Darwin award issue. However, this is not an ideal world, so a dog can end up being put down and the owner penalized by the behavior of random passers-by.