May I Pet Your Dog?

Thankfully, that phrase is fast becoming a regular part of our civic language as parents continue to educate their kids (and themselves) about safe dog interaction protocols. For too long, too many incidences ranging from the annoying to the tragic have occurred due to parents allowing kids to wander up to dogs in homes, parks and playgrounds and initiate contact in an unsafe and inappropriate manner.

While there is still much work to be done about this issue, safe greetings (or avoidances) are on the rise and progress is being made thanks to an ongoing and persistent effort to educate parents and kids.

I just returned from my morning walk with Jasmine and Sadie, and our path today took us by a popular neighborhood playground full of toddlers and young preschoolers. As we filled up the dog bowl at the park water fountain (it's almost 80 degrees here today!), two very young girls approached and asked that all-important question:  "May I pet your dogs?"

Since Jasmine was pretty wired after having been in a particularly engaged squirrel-chasing mode immediately prior to this encounter, I replied that they certainly could pet the larger brown dog, Sadie, but that I'd prefer they not touch little Jasmine.  Jasmine is our work in progress and can still be somewhat reactive in certain situations after a hellish start to life, while Sadie is our bombproof, child-loving, wannabe therapy dog in situations like this.

Problem is, the little girls were predictably both enamored of darling little Jasmine (no bigger than a large ferret), and kept insisting that they should pet her, too.  It took some serious leash wrangling and persistent maneuvering to keep them from crowding Jasmine - something that wouldn't have been good for any party involved - but they eventually got the message and focused on loving Sadie before returning to their rock climbing wall.

This brief episode highlights a crucially important point:  just because someone starts the process correctly by asking the question, 'May I pet your dog' doesn't mean that they will follow through with good results or even listen to the answer.  I think it's vital that we not only teach our kids to ask first before petting (and then only if they know the dog handler, ensure that it isn't a stranger, and still have the parent/guardian nearby), but also that we encourage them to listen to and respect the answer that the dog's owner provides.

So next time you're working with your kids on dog safety and etiquette, be sure they know how to make the entire encounter a safe one, and not just pay lip service to what they think we want them to say.

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