Monday, March 20, 2023

Pet etiquette: Please ask first

| May 27, 2021 1:00 AM

One impetus of National Pet Month is a launchpad for awareness. We love our furry friends, but sometimes when we two-legged creatures mean well, we still — if you’ll pardon the expression — step right in the stinky stuff.

A dog-lover in the newsroom made a great point about a recent column (“Dog walking: Some say make it law”): When you see a pooch, don’t just run up to pet it. Ask first. You never know what’s going on with that dog.

In fact, that brings up the subject of pet social etiquette, intended to respect, protect, and do what’s best for man and beast alike. Best explained by expert dog trainer Stephanie Vichinsky in her May 2019 Coeur Voice guest column, it pays to ask, not assume, whether interaction is welcome.

That includes letting your own pet approach another.

“’Don’t worry, he’s friendly.’ If you’re walking an aggressive or reactive dog and an off-leash dog rushes up to you, these are probably the most terrifying words to hear,” wrote Vichinsky, who illustrated the point with interaction scenarios.

“(A) dog has been crated all day while the owner worked, and this off-leash time is where he gets to cut loose, run, play, and explore anything and everything. All of the things around him are up for grabs.

“The owner of the aggressive or reactive dog doesn’t see it that way. The reactive dog owner sees the happy off-leash dog as a huge threat because the last two off-leash dogs he/she met attacked her dog in a matter of seconds. He/she has tremendous anxiety that it will happen again … The off-leash dog rushes into the reactive dog’s face to greet it, and the reactive dog bites the intruder out of fear. Both dog owners rush to the scene to break the dogs apart and minimize damage.”

Other pets aren’t truly aggressive, but simply need time to get to know another person or animal, and these spontaneous approaches cause them stress.

The same goes for allowing your own friendly dog to approach people. While many people seem to respond well, it’s impossible to know whether an adult or child may have reasons to prefer not to interact.

After my 9-year-old was attacked by an unhealthy dog and needed surgery to reattach his lip, it took a long time before he was ready to accept any canine approaches (now as an adult, he has his own beloved dog).

The moral of these stories is that we don’t always know what’s going on with the people or pets around us. We don’t always know if the animal is social, ill or recently traumatized; its owner’s current intentions with it; or their past experiences.

As Vichinsky said, “It’s always best to be considerate, and give everyone space until we know more about the situation.”


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email

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