Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Can I Pet your Dog?

Recently, I was out walking with my two basenjis, when a kid ran up to us and asked if he could pet my dogs.  For us, that's not unusual, since my dogs are an "approachable" size that kids seem to find irresistible.  What was interesting about this instance, however, was the fact that the kid was only about two years old, and he showed that he knew the exact right way to approach a new dog -- by first putting a fist out low for the dog to sniff, and then opening the hand to gently pet the dog under the chin. 

While most kids in our neighborhood say they have a dog or they know about dogs, 99% of them don't know the right way to approach an unfamiliar dog -- and for that matter, most adults don't know, either.  Most people immediately go for the pat or scratch on the top of the head, or the stroke down the back, which can often seem threatening to a dog if they don't know the person.  This video explains why, and shows the correct way to approach an unfamiliar dog:

As we traverse the neighborhood and kids approach us to pet my dogs, for those kids who will listen, I gently coach them on how to approach a dog they don't know, and I let them pet the dogs.  Most of the kids know us by now (we walk a lot!), and they're getting pretty good at remembering what they're supposed to do even before I remind them.  However, for those kids who don't listen, I simply tell them that now's not a good time, or that the dogs are scared to be petted by people they don't know.  That's not always true, but it's certainly safer than making my dogs uncomfortable with an interaction.  I don't think they'd ever bite -- I've seen Biko growl a bit to let me know he was uncomfortable with an interaction, which was a good warning sign to me so that I could end the interaction before he felt like he had to resort to biting.  However, sometimes with kids you just never know, and I wouldn't want to take the chance that some kid would decide to poke my dog unexpectedly in the rear and the dog would feel the need to defend himself.  Better to be safe than sorry, and to try to promote a little bit of good canine education along the way :-)

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