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If you’ve spent any time on social media chances are you’ve come across the phrase “pet all the dogs” or “I just want to pet all the dogs.” This “memeable” slogan has become popular across TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter and can be seen on water bottles, t-shirts, and bumper stickers.

While it’s a way to express how much an individual loves dogs, unfortunately, it doesn’t take the dog’s comfort into account. Even if you love all dogs, just know that not all dogs are going to love you. Even if you want to greet every dog you encounter, you need to make sure it’s OK to do so.

Always Ask Before Approaching

You should always seek consent from a dog’s owner before approaching and greeting a dog. If you see a fluffy dog that you’re absolutely obsessed with, compliment the person on their dog and potentially ask about their breed before engaging. If you want to pet the dog, ask the owner first. Once you get the green light, approach the dog calmly to not overwhelm them and wait for the dog to approach you instead of reaching out, which some dogs find threatening.

Alaskan Malamute being pet at Meet the Breeds
Stacey Salter Moore (SSM Photography)

Even if a friendly dog jumps and runs up to you on the street, still get the owner’s permission. They could be working on training their dog to not exhibit these behaviors in public, and petting the dog could accidentally continue to reinforce the dog to jump up on people.

Although some dogs are very social with people, many dogs are not comfortable meeting and interacting with strangers. Just like you don’t probably enjoy shaking hands or hugging every random person you pass on the street, the same is true for dogs. Dogs aren’t in petting zoos and may prefer to have some personal space.

Reasons A Dog Owner Might Say No To Petting

You must respect the boundary if someone tells you cannot pet their dog. There are a variety of reasons a dog owner may say no when approached by a stranger.

  • The dog is nervous or unpredictable with strangers
  • The dog is sick or recovering from surgery or an injury
  • The owner is in a hurry and doesn’t have time to stop
  • The dog is training to ignore distractions

Remember that dog owners don’t owe you an explanation or a justification for not wanting their dog to be pet. If a dog owner says no, respect that answer; don’t question why or try to pet their dog anyway.

Creating Educational Moments

As a dog owner, chances are you are often approached by excited people who want to say hello to your dog, especially if you have a dog with a unique coat or have a rare breed. If you find yourself getting frustrated by being approached, try to reframe the situation and turn it into an educational moment.

Know that you don’t have to let anyone pet your dog if you or your dog aren’t comfortable, and you need to advocate your dog’s comfort. It can be helpful to provide an educational explanation about what you and your dog are doing if you’re out training, or if you have a dog who is shy or uncomfortable around people.

Some people get excited and don’t think before asking to pet a dog, and in these situations, it’s good to politely remind them that dogs have unique personalities and don’t always like to be pet. For shy dogs, you could print “trading cards” with information on the back about their breed, their sport titles, and social media links, which is something that’s very popular among dog athletes. You can pass them out to quickly get on with your day.

Labrador retriever being pet by a crowd of children outdoors.

What About Dog Shows?

Dog shows might seem like the place where your “pet all the dogs” fantasy comes true, but that isn’t always the case. When at a dog show, it’s especially important to ask before approaching and petting any dog. At shows people are generally more than happy to talk with you about what is happening at the show and about their breed, so long as it’s an appropriate time. If the dog is about to go into the ring or just finished grooming, you shouldn’t attempt to pet it.

There are certain events catered to petting dogs, like breed meetups and AKC Meet The Breeds. AKC Meet the Breeds allows attendees the opportunity to get up close and meet breeds from Affenpinschers to Great Danes. Just be sure to ask before you pet!

Don’t Distract Service Dogs

Service dogs have an important job to do to help their handlers navigate the world safely and need to focus on their jobs. If you see a service dog, do not ask to pet, distract, or try to engage with the dog. In fact, most will have a patch on their vest that says “DO NOT PET.”

The same goes for other working dogs, like search and rescue dogs, security dogs, police dogs, and lifeguard dogs. In many cases these working dogs are specially trained to interact with the public, but are nonetheless working.

When you see a dog you desperately want to pet, take a deep breath, contain your excitement, and ask first. Respecting a dog’s space is a far better way to show how much you love dogs than just trying to pet every dog you see.

Related article: How to Help Your Dog Be Less Fearful Of Strangers
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