If you want to pat a dog.... July 18, 2016 18:13

I did a talk at Rosie's Kindy recently.  The teachers asked me to talk to the kids about safety around dogs, especially when you want to pat them. When I had a think about it, I realised that many adults, including dog owners, often don't give the dog the choice as to whether they would like a pat. We tend to expect all dogs to be "friendly" and want a pat, but the reality is that many of them are uncomfortable or even downright scared when unfamiliar people and children approach them.

I decided to explain it to the kids by saying that you need to ask the dog "would you like a pat" by extending your hand to them to sniff. This gives them the opportunity to display signs of anxiety or discomfort before they are forced into a threatening situation. If you are a dog owner, can I encourage you to observe your dog's body language and allow them to retreat if they are uncomfortable. Almost every single dog bite occurs because the dog was scared.

Here's the clip of my explanation to the kids:

For more details on body language that indicates your dog may be anxious, have a read of this blog post: 



Here's my little cutie helping me with a demonstration of the process:


I went on to tell the kids never to hug or kiss somebody else's dog, and never to pat a dog that is hiding or frightened. We also looked at pictures of dogs (my patients!) displaying various body language and the children surprised me by picking up on how the dogs were feeling really quickly.

If you are a parent of a small child, or if you have a dog that is super friendly, confident and social, can I please ask you to ensure that your children and your pets are not allowed to invade another dog's personal space without permission. Many people let their dogs rush up to another dog and call out "don't worry, he's friendly". This is really unkind - the dog on the receiving end of the "friendliness" has not been given the option to retreat.

So here's the take home message, whether it's a child or a pet that wants to interact with someone else's dog:  ask the owner first, and then gently ask the dog.

I like to think that even nervous or timid dogs should be allowed to enjoy themselves in parks, at dog beaches and around the suburbs without being forced to confront scarey people, or meet other dogs. Let's respect their needs and give them space when they need it. 

Dr Amy Coles