I’ve spent my whole life surrounded by dogs. I can’t remember a time when there weren’t at least two in my home. When I was young my family was involved with a group that taught obedience classes and took therapy dogs to nursing homes. I’ve learned a lot about dogs, but one very important rule has always been ingrained in my mind: Never touch a dog without the owner’s permission.
A couple of semesters ago, a guy brought his small puppy to class. When he stood next to me with his puppy in hand I forgot this rule and reached out to pet the baby. Who could resist an adorable, tiny puppy? But just before my hand could touch the puppy I remembered the rule and retracted my hand at the same time the guy said, “No!” He turned the puppy away from me and the other students that had reached out and explained that she was a future service dog. He was carrying the dog with him around the busy campus to get her accustomed to being around people, not to be touched.
While it’s important not to touch any dog without asking, it is especially important not to touch a working dog without the owner’s expressed permission. Distracting a working dog could actually endanger someone’s life. Dogs can have many jobs, such as searching for missing people, helping blind people safely navigate the world, as well as many other important jobs. Some working dogs are meant to be touched, such as the therapy dogs that my school brings in during finals week. But this is not the case for most working dogs. Petting a working dog could distract them from the job they have been trained to do.
For example, if a dog is trained to notify their epileptic owner that a seizure is about to happen, the owner can prepare. If someone decides to pet the dog and give them kisses, they might not notice their owner is about to seize. This would mean the owner has no time to prepare for the seizure and they could fall and get hurt. That owner gets put in danger all because someone didn’t ask for permission before touching a dog. While many working dogs wear vests that say things like “Service Dog” or “Working Dog,” not all of them do, nor is it required by law. Asking permission to touch a dog would give the owner the chance to tell you how important it is not to touch their dog.
While it is especially important to ask with working dogs, the rule also applies when you want to interact with dogs that don’t have jobs. You might be thinking that if a person has brought their dog out in public, then they should expect people to pet their dog. But the thing is, there are many reasons a person could have a dog with them that shouldn’t be touched. The most likely reason is that they are trying to get their dog accustomed to new stimuli. For all you know this could be one of the first times the dog is out in public and they aren’t quite ready for a stranger to touch them. That dog could see you as a threat and bite you or simply cower in fear. Or perhaps an owner just doesn’t want a stranger touching their dog. You never know.
Whatever the situation, touching a dog without permission is not only rude, it’s dangerous. You can never know how the dog will react and asking before touching will help you avoid a bad experience that could range anywhere from annoying the owner to endangering a life. I love dogs and I know it’s hard to resist reaching out and petting them, but it’s really important to ask before doing so.