I Don’t Want To Pet Your Dog

Silas dislikes strangers.

I don’t know, maybe that’s phrasing it a little strongly. Silas, in fact, adores strangers, as long as they’re behaving predictably. It’s just that he adores them like he adores a fresh bush to sniff–he wants to go see them and give them a thorough examination. He continues to be baffled that this fresh two-legged thing to sniff expects to reach out and touch him as part of the sniffing ritual. Because he doesn’t handle being startled very well, you can see why a small problem might arise. Somewhere between 50% and75% of the time, the person he’s sniffing will manage to initiate contact in a way that Silas finds acceptable. The rest of the time, not so much.

Needless to say, we don’t meet a lot of strangers unless I have some pretty clear evidence that things will go well.

His little problem has also made me very sensitive, to the point of paranoia, about petting dogs I don’t know. Over time, my paranoia has crystallized into this rule:

I pet dogs who are actively, happily, and politely soliciting my attention. Otherwise, I leave them alone.

If your dog comes up to me, when I don’t have Silas, and makes a sweet “please pet me!!!!” face, I’ll probably oblige. If your dog is watching me curiously, I’ll try to have non-threatening body language, but I’m not going to solicit attention. I am not going to coax a dog over, unless we’re in some kind of lost dog emergency situation. I am not going to ask you if I can pet your dog, unless your dog asks me first.

Petting your dog is none of my business.

Petting is not an inalienable right that comes with having hands. Having soft fur does not mean that you have no say so about what happens to your own body.

10 thoughts on “I Don’t Want To Pet Your Dog

  1. This is a good observation, and I think it’s a hard law for dog-loving humans to follow. Even having a shy dog and knowing as much as I do about dog body language, I have to consciously make myself resist the urge to greet all the dogs I see in public. I’ve been more successful, as you note, by taking stock of the dog’s language, but it’s still a temptation I have to resist! On the other side, I certainly appreciate it when people ask if they can pet our dogs. One of the benefits of having a feared breed (GSD) is that people almost ALWAYS ask… it’d be terrible to have a fearful golden retriever; no one would ask.


    1. I don’t have a lot of history with dogs pre-Silas, so living with him has thoroughly programmed me.

      Silas would have a much easier life if he weren’t so ridiculously cute. He’s small enough to not intimidate people, with those huge ears to attract attention. It’s an often overwhelming temptation.


      1. Just the other day I had a man approaching me and telling me how cute my dogs were as Ruby had a meltdown. I could hardly hear him over the barking. I said thank you and made a hasty escape.


  2. Excellent point. I read a blog post once likening petting a stranger’s dog to handling a stranger’s child. It really puts things in perspective. Having an anxious dog (Faolan) that adores people for the most part but can be fearful makes it hard at times. Neeko is confident, but heaven forbid someone reach over her head. I try to keep my dogs from randomly approaching people unless I can gauge/guess how the person will react.


    1. Yep. I also don’t want to hold your baby, for the same reasons. Non-verbal creatures have rights, too.

      I was at a party once where someone had an older lab-mix puppy (6 months or so) and one of the guests just casually scooped her up. I almost had a meltdown, because the poor dog was so obviously not okay with that.


  3. I don’t like to have strangers invading my personal space either so I can understand how dogs (and children) feel when that happens to them.


  4. Kaya & Norman are all about strangers but they are pretty good about waiting for a cue from someone before bombarding them with their adoration. They didn’t learn anything from me though, I rarely like to pet strangers’ dogs unless it’s super cute like a puppy. I just think, I can pet my own dogs all day long, do I have to pet yours too? Sigh…I can be such a bitch…lucky my dogs do not take after me:/

    On a aide note, I nearly had a panic attack when a random little girl hugged me when I was walking down the street the other day. I definitely know how Silas feels on this one..


  5. I agree. As a shihtzu owner, I get a lot of those. The thing is, though, my dog bites strangers who gives him unsolicited petting. I think that it’s not about having a “bad dog” as most of the people I’ve seen said, but it’s more about respecting the dog just as you’d respect any other human.


  6. My dog Samson has some fears issues with strangers as well. He also wants to do a full sniff examination, but usually people assume this means he wants them to lean over him and pet him, which freaks him out sometimes. Very few people will actually listen when I say do not reach for or touch him so this means he doesn’t get to greet many people, unfortunately. This has resulted in me telling people he bites, just to keep them from approaching Samson. It makes me sad because this is something I want to work on, but if I can’t guarantee it will be a non threatening encounter for my dog, forget about it.


  7. I GET this. Mine walks nicely on a leash (MONTHS OF WORK) and looks like something out of a children’s book. When practicing sits in scary situations, I have had people stop to tell me that she looks like a stuffed toy. Consequently, everyone (especially kids) wants to pet her. She doesn’t like it. She just wants to do the thorough sniff. I actually have more luck explaining this to kids than adults who “know best.” When I tell them that what she really likes is to sniff people, they stand still and let her sniff them. And then we walk away, and everyone is happy. Adults insist on reaching for her. And so she barks in their faces.


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