I walk my dogs daily in my neighborhood where we often encounter children playing. It’s common for them to run toward me expecting a happy, furry greeting as they shout cheerfully, “Can I pet your dog?” My pets aren’t used to kids and, I don’t know if the children have been taught to approach dogs.
The answer when walking Davy, my German shepherd, is a clear, “No… We are in training right now.” I would never put him at risk. Sometimes, I will ask the children if they want to give Davy a treat for doing something I ask him to do. Then I will hand them a treat and ask Davy to perform one of his tricks. A good spin left, spin right, down, sit, or paw always elicits a smile from the audience and the children can toss a treat on the ground in front of him for his reward.
With my Walker Hound, my answer to the petting question is, “You can try, but she is very shy.” I’m careful with my dogs around children. Ginger is skittish of many things. I ask the children to let her choose to approach. Then I give them a treat to offer her. She is getting good at this because she is greedy about yummy food, but not because she likes other people.
In both scenarios, I make it a good experience for everyone. I know my dogs well and understand their body language. But I am aware that most dogs don’t like close encounters with people they don’t know well. I am happier keeping mine in our comfort zone.
Ginger is a rescued Walker Hound that was found running down HWY 70 in Havelock. The story I concocted about her previous life is that she was never socialized well and didn’t turn into a good hunting dog. When she went missing from her pack – no one ventured to find her. I met her at a local rescue where she was in foster care. She hid behind her foster Mom’s legs when I went to see the pets available. “I’ll take that one,” I said and took her home. After ten years, she is still shy.
Davy, my GSD, got a great start in life. Good breeder, excellent lines, and a caring home. He joined my family when he was nine weeks old. I followed the “puppy right start to do” list so was able to shape his experiences. His exuberance, high-energy, low impulse control, and loud bark are in his genes. He is a good dog for me, but not a magnet for petting by strangers. He gets a lot of attention for his good looks, but I keep him at a safe distance from people on our walks.
Do your dogs enjoy being petted? Do they like strangers? Have they been socialized to children? What does your dog want to do? Some dogs love attention from people of all ages and sizes and some don’t. Can you read your dogs body language well enough to know if they are “into” greeting strangers or not? If that stranger is young, do you know if their parents have taught them how to approach dogs? These factors contribute to a pleasant or unpleasant experience for a pet. This is one area when I chose to play it safe. When children ask me if they can pet my dog, my answer depends on what benefits my pet in that moment and whether they consent to the greeting.
Happy Pet! Happy Home!
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