By Katie Walsh
I don’t blame the neighborhood kids, really. I’d do the same thing if I were them and a dog as beautiful as my Ginger were approaching us.
She really is the Platonic ideal of a dog, isn’t she? Just an absolute stunner, from her ginger (thus her name) hair to her perfectly applied eyeliner. And because of her beauty, whenever we’re out on a walk, a scenario continually plays out: We come across a group of kids playing in the street, and their eyes fix upon her. They approach us, hands outstretched, desperate for a pat of her gorgeous red fur.
But, alas, much like the beautiful women who end up as contestants on The Bachelor, Ginger is not here to make friends. She is especially suspicious of the tiny, sticky hands attached to beings under 18 years of age. Get too close, and she’ll let you know her displeasure with a snarl and a visible canine tooth. It’s a problem that has the most simple of solutions: Just ask. Ask if you can pet the dog. Engage in proper pet etiquette -- petiquette, if you will.
I think because of dogs in popular culture like Lassie, Wishbone or Beethoven, we just expect dogs to be a bounty of love and affection for everyone they meet. But the reality is -- and perhaps I’m anthropomorphizing, but stay with me -- that dogs aren’t that different from people. Some are extroverts and love attention from all comers, and some prefer the company of just a few close confidants. Some can be friendly if you take the time to get to know them but are wary of strangers and new situations.
When a stranger’s desire to pet Ginger becomes clear, I always have to say, “Sorry, she’s not very friendly,” and then direct their pats to my other dog, Ren, who will gladly lap up any attention she’s given.
While it’s true of my dogs, you should also note that adhering to proper petiquette is not always an all-or-nothing scenario! I volunteered at one of the Rural Dog Rescue adoption events this weekend and held Juice, a delightfully rambunctious 18-month-old pit bull. Juice gets scared if you come at him with two hands, so we instructed all would-be adopters to pet him with one hand only.
One-hand petting, skittish of men, not good with children -- it’s stuff like that that you would only know if you made sure to ask the pet owner first. I cannot stress enough how important it is to just have the conversation before you go in for the scratch.
Of course, when you have the conversation, you also have to LISTEN to the answer you’re given. A man once said, “It’s OK, I speak dog” and tousled her ears anyway when I told him he couldn’t pet Ginger. She immediately snapped at him, so apparently he’s not as fluent as he thinks he is and should bone up on his dog lessons.
Petiquette is not just limited to human touches -- it’s also important for dog owners to help their pups with petiquette. Not every dog likes other dogs, so ask if it’s OK before you allow your dog to sniff or play with the random other pooches out for a walk.
And on that note, please, I beg of you, unless you’re in an area that is clearly demarcated as being leash-free, keep your dog on a leash! Unless you have an extremely well-trained dog who sprints to you every time you say their name, shouting, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” when your dog runs up on us doesn’t do a bit of good. YOURS may be friendly with other pups, but that doesn’t guarantee that MINE is friendly. Moreover, even the friendliest of dogs can get freaked out by a sudden charge from a strange mutt. It can end up being a really dangerous situation for everyone involved.
When you engage in proper petiquette, you create a safer environment for both yourself, your dog, other dog owners and children/people in general. By just being cognizant of your surroundings and courteous to other dog owners, you are guaranteeing a much happier life for you and your pup. So, the next time cute pooch approaches and the urge to pet strikes, you now know what to do. Just ask!