Pets column: May I pet your dog?Imagine walking down the street when suddenly a stranger steps right up to you with a huge grin, an enthusiastic “Hello!” and pulls you into a big hug.
By: Amy Miller, For the Budgeteer News
Imagine walking down the street when suddenly a stranger steps right up to you with a huge grin, an enthusiastic “Hello!” and pulls you into a big hug.
Would you back away? Push them off? Stand uncomfortably, allowing the interaction? Or would you return the greeting in the exact same way — after all, the stranger just wants to be your friend, right?
Now, think about the last time you were introduced to a new cat or dog. Did you greet them like the exuberant stranger in the example above?
Many animal lovers tend to expect instant friendship with every animal they meet, and often assume that each animal will reciprocate with equal
But cats and dogs, however friendly and attention-seeking, have very subtle ways of determining if an approaching stranger is or is not a threat, and should be greeted properly and respectfully so they are not alarmed.
Learning how to interact with our four-legged companions is extremely important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. About a fifth of these bites require medical attention and in half of those (about 440,000) children are the victims of bites.
In fact, children appear to be at high risk when it comes to dog bites. According to the American Humane Association, half of dog attacks involve children under 12 years of age, and more than half of the injuries to children are sustained on the head or neck.
While learning how to approach a cat or dog may not prevent all bites, it will certainly make the animal feel more comfortable and lead to a safer
When approaching a dog on a leash, always ask before reaching out to pet him. Once you have the owner’s permission, invite the dog into your space instead of moving into his. You can do this by turning sideways, clapping your hands softly, calling to the dog, and even taking a small step backward as he approaches to further invite him into your space.
If the dog has approached you for attention, pet him on the side instead of on his head to avoid sensitive ears, eyes, and muzzle. Don’t hug or kiss him. That’s a human’s way to show affection, but can easily make a dog uncomfortable.
When visiting a cat owner’s home, it is equally important to ask before petting. Cats, like dogs, rely heavily on their sense of smell so they greet each other nose-to-nose to determine if the other cat is friendly or is a threat.
Cat behavior expert Pam Johnson-Bennett suggests greeting a cat by extending one finger a short distance away from its nose. The finger acts as a “surrogate kitty nose” and allows the cat to approach and interact with you once she feels safe. As with dogs, softly pet the cat on the back once they choose to interact with you. Watch for a twitching tail or ears turned backward — signs that she is ready for you to stop petting.
For both species, it is crucial to allow the animal to choose how and when the interaction takes place. Let it come to you. If it doesn’t, respect its space. Forceful interactions could cause a defensive reaction from the pet. By greeting properly, you will avoid putting an animal into a position where it may use its voice, mouth, or claws to communicate its discomfort.
It is always important to greet an
animal properly, whether you’re just taking a moment to say hello to a cute dog while out on a walk or are building a lifelong relationship with a furry family member. Making a good first impression will go a long way towards keeping our four-legged companions comfortable and our two-legged
Amy Miller is the marketing and communications manager for Animal Allies
Humane Society. She lives in Duluth with her husband and three adopted pets: dogs Maverick and Goose, and a cat named Buddy Love.