Petiquette: Can I Pet Your Dog?

Updated on June 26, 2019
Luke Fitzpatrick profile image

I cover FinTech trends as a contributor to Forbes. In my spare time, I enjoy writing about parenting, productivity, and home improvement.


So, you see a super cute dog on the street. Of course, you immediately want to sidle over and give them all the pats. Hey, we’ve all been there. Cute pooches are totally irresistible!

However, there a few things that you need to take into consideration before you start trying to meet your ‘new furry friend’ quota for the day. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can know if it’s okay to pat a potential new furry pal.

Petting a Dog: What You Can and Shouldn’t Do

Canines are extremely complex animals, guided by senses and instincts that most normal pet owners simply don’t understand. Stroking an unfamiliar doggo can set off all kinds of dicey responses in their brain, including fear and aggression.

You can help to keep yourself, the dog and anyone around you safe by learning how to greet dogs properly.

  • Don’t get up in their grill: You’d probably feel a little scared too if someone randomly came into your house or stuck their hand into your personal space! If a dog is in their kennel or cage, don’t enter their safe space. Stand a safe distance away so they know you’re not a threat.
  • Approach slowly: Again, you’d probably be scared if someone randomly ran towards you! Approach the dog at a leisurely pace while reading their body language signs for fear or aggression. These can include putting their ears flat to their head, giving you ‘side-eye’ or lowering their body to the ground.
  • Ask the owner if it’s okay: We teach kids about ‘stranger danger’, so why should dogs have to be tolerant of strangers coming up and touching them? Always ask the owner before petting a dog, as they’ll more than likely know how the dog will react and if they’ll enjoy the interaction.
  • Don’t ‘loom over’ them: Avoid leaning over dogs when approaching them or changing position near them. Dogs can find this ‘in your face’ positioning very threatening, and it may cause them to lash out. You need to remember that you’re much bigger than they are! Approach the dog side-on and stay outside of their personal space bubble. Let them come to you, so you can be 100% sure they’re keen for a cuddle.

Signs You Shouldn’t Pet That Dog

There are a few things to look out for that will definitely indicate it’s better for both of you if you DON’T pet that dog. Most of these can be made clear after a simple conversation with the owner—another reason why it’s so important to ask if it’s okay for you to pet first!

  1. They’re a working dog: Working dogs often wear "I’m working" or "Do not disturb" jackets, however sometimes it can be less clear that they actually have a very important job to do. Interrupting a working dog can take their attention away from their owner, potentially putting them in harm’s way. Never pat a working dog. They’re busy!
  2. If there are lots of other people patting the dog: Dogs can easily be overwhelmed and find lots of people patting them very intrusive. Imagine if you were on a train and every second person that came near you started to touch you! This can be very disturbing for dogs, so give them some space.
  3. If they’re being trained: Although puppies are always massive draw-cards for pats, sometimes they’re being trained, and they might still be getting used to being outside, around other people and in new environments. Always ask the owner if you can pat their puppy.
  4. If the owner says no: ALWAYS listen to the owner. When it comes to dog patting, whatever the owner says goes. Remember, they know their dog best. They know if their dog is scared, overwhelmed or angry, and their dog may also be deaf, very old or injured. Take the owner’s judgment as fact, and if they say so, leave the doggo alone.

What You Should Know as a Dog Owner

As a dog owner, there are a few things you need to do to make sure your dog is okay being out and about around people—keeping both them and the community safe.

  • Socialize your dog from a young age: It’s important to make sure your dog is socialized as a puppy so that they grow up to be friendly, capable and confident. In a controlled manner, safely expose your pet to new environments, people and other dogs. Also expose them (with supervision) to things dogs are commonly scared of, such as fireworks, lawnmowers, and men with beards. This will get them used to these sights, and ensure they don’t develop fears later in life.
  • Train your dog: Dogs should understand basic commands so that they’re able to be controlled when in public places. This will also teach the dog what kind of behavior is expected of them when out and about. So, make sure you’re well-equipped to handle any situation that may arise.

Enjoy Canine Company

Everyone loves to pat a cute dog that they may see out and about, but be sure to always ask the owner before patting and make sure you approach appropriately. This will ensure that you, the dog, the dog’s owner, and the general public are all kept safe.

Lastly, if you’re looking for places to take your dog out, the local park or a nearby pet cafe could be the perfect opportunity for you to meet other dog lovers.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Luke Fitzpatrick


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      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 

        14 months ago from North Central Florida

        Such wise suggestions---my neighbors have a dog that I would love to pet but I have shied away from doing so until his family deems that it would be ok In the meantime I tell him I love him every day and he seems to smile at that Angels are on the way this evening ps

      • Luke Fitzpatrick profile imageAUTHOR

        Luke Fitzpatrick 

        16 months ago from Sydney

        Thanks, Rochelle, I think as well, sometimes it takes a little bit of common sense as well to know when/when you shouldn't pet a dog. I used to also own a German dog, Miniature Schnauzer.

      • Rochelle Frank profile image

        Rochelle Frank 

        16 months ago from California Gold Country

        Thanks for offering this advice. I always appreciate it when people ask.

        During one period of our life we had a feisty Min-Pin who was happy to snap at anyone who offered a hand in friendship without any warning.

        Thankfully our current pup had never even pretended to bite anyone.


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