I recently read a post by rumpydog addressing the issue of Breed Specific Laws (BSL), you can read all about it here. It got me to thinking about why dogs bite, so thought I would do a post on the subject of body language and how to approach dogs. Now I know this is way off the topic of which Rumpy wrote about but thought it was worth the time to write about it. I do believe that in most cases dogs warn us long before they actually bite, we just do not listen or observe the signs as the case may be. There are those instances when a dog does bite that is un-provoked, possibly due to how they are raised, breeding, bad temperament, etc. but that is not what I am talking about here. I am talking about the average well adjusted good temperament dog that is using it’s only means of communication to tell us how they are feeling, their body.

It has been my experience that not everyone knows how to approach a dog or even how to teach their children the do’s and don’ts of being around dogs, whether it is the family pet or a strange dog they see on the street. However, for those who do I applaud you and thank you for teaching your children well so I don’t have to be the bad guy and my dog doesn’t have to warn them; and for the adults that listen to me and follow my instructions I thank you too!

There are three very basic rules I teach everyone, young and old, first you ALWAYS ask permission from the owner before touching the dog. They are the best judge of whether or not their dog is friendly towards strangers and wants to be petted. Second do not reach over the dogs head to pet them, most dogs do not like this and will pull away or lower their head to get away from your hand; instead hold your hand out so they can get a good smell of you and then if they are receptive a little scratch under the chin will do. And third  do not stare the dog in the eyes, to them this is a sign of “hey you want to start something with me”. It seems that children are more receptive to these rules when explained to them than some adults; for example…

A couple of years ago at a benched dog show I had a gentleman come over to see my dogs, however when he approached he was staring at Riva and would not break the gaze (breaking rule #3). Then he reached out to pet her on top of the head (breaking rule #1 & #2) she had a low grumble so I quickly told him not to touch her and I moved her away from him. I told him that she did not like him staring her in the eyes and he quickly dismissed what I was telling him and scoffed at me. My point was proven when a lady approached, asked if she could pet her, held her hand out so Riva could smell her first and then rubbed under her chin while talking softly to her (not staring her in the eyes), Riva was very friendly towards the woman. Well I have to tell you this gentleman did not like this and asked me “why does she let her pet and not me” and again I repeated “because you keep staring her in the eye and she does not like it” finally he walked away still quite ignorant of what I had tried to teach him. Ah well you can’t get through to everyone!

I find that you really have to be in tune with your dog and learn their body language so you will know how they are feeling especially when you are in public. Knowing your dogs body language can prevent a bite from happening. I tell people all the time dogs do not think like we do and they certainly do not reason like we do so it is up to the owner to protect them and people from tragic mishaps.

I found this nifty chart that shows canine body language and what it means better than I could have written, hope you enjoy it as much as I did and will share it along so we can educate others on body language.


22 thoughts on “Can I Pet Your Dog?

  1. Great post!!! Some people do not get it that dogs have their own language and each dog has its own variation of this language… Keep up the great and informative posts for if more people would just learn these things many dog bites would not happen. 🙂


  2. Great post and I love the chart that actually shows the dogs giving those responses, it makes them easier to see and understand. Luckily the size of my dogs deters people and children from approaching without asking. Mica will usually sit for children to look less imposing. However, most dogs do not have the size advantage and people and children don’t always check first. Knowing dogs for a lifetime, I never approach without an invitation from the dog.


  3. I’m sorry, I should have stated that if Lexie or Mica do not want to be petted by someone they will back up away from the hand (person). We immediately step in and explain that she does not want to be petted right now. We never try to force the dogs to be petted by someone that makes them uncomfortable.


  4. Hi Y’all,

    Last August 16, 2011 I wrote an article “Sorry My Human Won’t Let You Pat Me”, addressing the same subject. The main problem with people who let their kids run up and surprise us is that my Humans can be sued if I snap. I weigh in between 96 and 100 lbs depending on time of year and exercise. I could knock a little kid down by accident in my exuberance.

    That was a great post about our body language. My Human just ignores strange dogs she meets even at the home of a friend. If they come up all friendly after giving her a thorough sniffing she might kneel and pat them under the chin.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog


  5. Good post Misty, I have had a dog bite me with no provacation, but as you said, the majority of times the dog has given fair warning.

    Most dogs are very clear about whether you should be doing what you are doing!


    1. Thank you! Yes there are those who sometimes out of the blue bite or at least we are unaware of any warning signs, I myself have been bit several times but when I look back on it only one would have been without provocation and he was an awful little dog my grandmother had. 🙂 The others well I just didn’t pay close enough attention to the body language, my bad!!


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