Most kids love dogs, and it’s obvious why! They are cute, cuddly, and very easily attract their attention. That’s why when a child sees a stranger’s dog out in public, they will almost always ask to pet it. Typically the situation goes something like this: The child approaches the strange dog, uses their manners to ask if they can pet it. At the same time, their parent looks on- proud that they remembered to ask and then say, “please.”

In most cases, the dog owner answers, “yes.” Then putting their dog to the ultimate test to sit perfectly like a statue on the leash and endure this little stranger getting into their personal space. While situations like this are seemingly innocent, it is not worth the risk to allow your child to pet a strange dog. Doing so puts them in danger of a face bite, which happens much more often than you might think. It is a small risk with a gigantic consequence. Another factor to consider is that the majority of dogs are indifferent to be petted by children and are mainly tolerating it.  

Here are the top 4 reasons why your child should never pet a stranger dog on a leash: 

  1. Not all dogs are comfortable with this. A nip by a dog in this context is a warning that they want their space back. Unfortunately, knowing this does not make your child less scared or hurt. Dogs do not like to be hugged or to feel trapped on a leash as a strange human approach them (let alone a child at their eye level). Your dog should not feel like a petting zoo, especially if they don’t like it or want to be. Children themselves can sometimes exhibit erratic behavior due to excitement, which makes the situation even more stressful to the dog. This stress and anxiety can lead to the dog “correcting” the child because they could not escape the situation.
  2. To put it simply, you don’t know what you don’t know. The dog in question could be recently adopted (meaning the owner might not have had the dog around children before). A common denominator in dog bites of children is the claim from the owner that they’ve “had the dog for a few weeks, and it’s never shown aggression.” Unfortunately, that isn’t long enough to be familiar with your dog’s behaviors. Even if the owner has had the dog for years, it could also be anxious, stressed, or over-stimulated: you don’t know its current state of mind. Dogs that tolerate things as a puppy or young dog do not always maintain the same tolerance as an adult or senior dog.  
  3. In many situations, neither you nor the dog owner has the education to recognize the warning signs and behaviors. The average pet person doesn’t have the extensive dog training to understand when their dog is enjoying the child’s attention or merely tolerating it. Even if you can identify the difference, a dog’s attitude can change so quickly that you may not react in time.
  4. Owners often think that allowing their dog to interact with children is good for the dog’s socialization. This thought can often cause them to let the child pet the dog without fully considering the consequences. However, I am here to reassure you that it is NOT advantageous for their socialization. If anything, allowing strangers into your dog’s space shows the dog that you are no longer advocating for them. 

 As a parent, I do want to add a caveat. I am incredibly skeptical of dog owners who visit children’s play areas with their animals. It makes me worry that the owner’s intention could be to attract the children to test the dog. Then this dog owner sits there and assures parents that their dog loves the attention and has never bitten or growled at a child. It makes me wonder why they are deliberately continuing to put their dog in a scenario that could set them up to fail. Are they testing the dog’s socialization on your child or evaluating how a new dog reacts to children? Just food for thought, and I have experienced this scenario twice!

Overall, when it comes to the safety of your child, it simply isn’t worth taking the 30-second risk of allowing them to pet a strange dog. And on the other end of the leash, Owners, it is not worth the 30-second risk and potentially setting your dog up for failure.  

The alternative is to teach children about individual dog breeds and their purpose. Discussing the dog they see can distract from petting while educating your child. Additionally, you may want to focus on your reaction. When our children see us getting overly excited about a new animal, it makes sense that they will begin to mimic this reaction. And Dog Owners, It’s OK to politely tell the child that you are impressed with their excellent manners in asking, but your pup isn’t up for a petting today. 

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