Can I pet your dog?

Dalcash Dvinsky
The Bunny Years
Published in
4 min readDec 22, 2023

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Unsurprisingly, lots of people really want to pet my dog. Petting Bunny is great, and it can absolutely make your day. Most of the time it’s perfectly okay to pet my dog. He has met hundreds of strangers over the years, and many of them had a good time with him. Sometimes I tell people that it’s not okay. Sometimes they don’t listen and Bunny is rude to them. Unfortunately I can’t force people to spend a few minutes to read this post before petting my dog, although it would really help. It covers important rules for interacting with my dog. Or, for that matter, with any dog that is not entirely docile and indifferent to the world. The overarching thought to keep in mind is this:

You don’t know this dog.

I don’t care how many dogs you have lived with, how long you have volunteered in a shelter, or how much of a dog person you are. You don’t know this dog in front of you. You don’t know his learning history, his genetic makeup, his tendencies and idiosyncracies, his experiences, and what state of mind he is in right now. You can’t know. this might be a dog that is, for one reason or another, not ready for strangers. It might be a dog that is currently very aroused by something else. It might be a dog that is totally relaxed and fine. You just don’t know. And therefore it’s a good idea to approach this whole interaction slowly, following three basic rules:

Rule number one: Let him sniff.

Dogs explore the world with their noses. They cannot tell who you are without having sniffed you. So, if you want to meet my dog, the first step is to stand still and let him sniff. Don’t stretch out an arm, don’t talk to him, don’t do anything. In other words, if you want to interact with my dog, you have to learn how to ignore him. At least for a few seconds. Those moments are important for him to get to know you, they establish a relationship. You don’t want a stranger petting your head, and don’t assume my dog wants that.

Rule number two: Don’t be weird.

When you start to pet him, do it in a place where he can see your hand. That means, near the face. Don’t start on the back, on the tail, or even on the neck. Petting on the top of the head may be okay after a bit of acclimatising, but it’s not the best place to start. Whatever you are doing with the dog, give him a chance to walk away. Do something for a few seconds, scratch his ear, or touch his chin, or anything, but then stop and let him decide. Keep everything short and sweet. Keep things moving. Give him options. Give him room. Wait for his agreement. Start with one hand petting, instead of two. Don’t hug him, don’t hold him, don’t restrain him. If he likes something, he may come back for more. Even then, don’t take that as a sign that he is now completely okay with hugging. Basically, just no hugging, whatsoever. Nobody wants to get hugged by a complete stranger.

Rule number three: Listen to him.

My dog communicates quite clearly what he likes and what he doesn’t like. Other dogs send more subtle signals, but it’s still there. Pay attention to the signs. Some of them are unmistakable and don’t require years of training. If my dog starts growling, then it’s definitely time to walk away. Sometimes he starts with a quiet grumble, an expression of discontent. If ignored, it can lead to growling, and then to something that is worse than growling. He hasn’t bitten anyone, but he may move, abruptly. People don’t tend to like that. A more subtle sign is that he stops moving and becomes motionless. Stiffness is a sign. It may seem convenient for the purpose of petting, but it’s a result of being tense and insecure, a sign of discomfort. The dog is trying to tell you something. Pay attention.

Also, listen to me, as well. I will amplify and translate his signals. That could be useful! If I say ‘go away’, I’m not rude, I’m just trying to help.

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