Pet peeves

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Don’t pet strangers’ dogs without asking

By Jessica Berget, Opinions Editor


Dogs are wonderful creatures. They’re cute, sweet, and loyal which makes them excellent companions. To those who don’t own a dog, meeting one on the street can be an exciting and rewarding experience. However, I think more people need to get into the habit of asking owners whether or not they can pet their dog before touching them.

I notice a lot of people gleefully scream and run up to random dogs to pet them, but never say a word to or even make eye contact with the owner. Dogs are cute, yes, but that is no excuse to feel entitled to touch someone else’s pet without consulting them or even saying hello first. It’s rude, and I’m sure you were raised better than to touch things that don’t belong to you—especially other living creatures.

Petting dogs without the owner’s permission is not a habit that we should be tolerating. You may think I’m overexaggerating, but there are many valid reasons not to pet strangers’ dogs without asking. For one, they may be anxious or shy and act aggressively in the presence of strangers coming up to them and getting into their personal space. Or perhaps a dog’s owner trained it to be defensive in the presence of strangers. Dogs are protective creatures, so if they feel threatened, they may try to protect themselves and their owners and you could get bitten as a result. If you ask the owner first if petting is okay, they might tell you that their pet is shy or that it doesn’t like being petted by strangers and you can avoid potentially being bitten.

What’s worse is that if you were to unintentionally spook the dog by petting it and it bites you out of self-defence, it might be considered the dog or the owner’s fault and they could get in a lot of trouble. According to a 2016 article by animal law lawyer Rebeka Breder, a proposed piece of legislation—Bill M212 or the Animal Liability Act (ALA)—would hold owners and their animals liable for all bites. This act “essentially creates a legal scheme of absolute liability,” she said. So, say you were to pet a stranger’s dog and happened to get bitten—the owner would automatically be held responsible and the dog might also be dubbed aggressive and even be seized by animal control, all because a stranger approached it and it was acting out its most basic instinct to protect itself and its owner. This bill hasn’t been passed into law yet, but its implications are nonetheless worrying for pet owners. Still think petting dogs without asking is okay?

Finally, people shouldn’t be petting strangers’ dogs because it sets a bad example of what is okay to other people and especially young kids. Think of what chaos could ensue if a small child saw others petting strangers’ dogs, went to pet a dog without asking, and was bitten.

Unless that dog comes up to you first and the owner gives permission, don’t assume it’s all right to pet it. Petting a stranger’s dog without asking could have negative consequences for yourself or the animal, so for everyone’s safety and peace of mind, just ask before you pet.