Posted by: Madeline Gabriel | May 18, 2011

National “No, You Can’t Pet My Dog” Day

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In honor of this year’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week, I’ve got a post for each day!  Dog bites are almost entirely preventable – especially bites to children.  What will YOU do this week to prevent a dog bite?

Me?  I’m going to tell a small child that he or she can’t pet my dog.  In fact, I’ve already done it and here’s how it went:

Barely walking baby toddles in my dog’s direction.  Mom smiles, “Is your dog friendly?”

I smile back and say, “My dog needs her space.  She’s old and her back is sore today.  She won’t enjoy being petted.”

Mom clutches her child and sort of glares at me as she walks off.

Wow, that’s pretty uncomfortable for everyone, but I can get over it knowing my response will not contribute to that little boy being magnetized to dogs.  Plus, it made the parents around me think twice about their own children rushing up to dogs, too.  Who knows?  Maybe I prevented lots of bites by introducing the possibility that people might say, “No, you can’t pet my dog.”

Right there is my issue with the focus on telling children merely to ask before touching dogs — people almost always say, “Yes.”  Why is that a problem?

  1. Children (and adults!) no longer wait for an answer because they presume it’s going to be yes.  Waiting for an answer drops out of the sequence and you often get kids who parrot, “May I pet your dog?” and then they’re moving right in before you can say anything.  After all, why not?  They asked, didn’t they?
  2. Because people expect a “Yes,” they do not know how to respond to a “No” and take it personally or get annoyed.  This leads to pet owners giving in to social pressure and feeling like they have to say “yes” when they’d rather say “no.”

(Parents should take careful note of #2!  Just because someone says “Yes,” doesn’t mean it’s safe for your child to touch that dog!)

So, here’s my proposal.  Pick a day and practice nicely saying, “No” to anyone who asks to pet your dog.  Heck, you can even say, “I’m sorry, but it’s National ‘No, You Can’t Pet My Dog’ Day so I just can’t.”  Go ahead – blame it on me!

The result of more “no’s” will be more people who stop to wait for an answer and probably less frequent willy-nilly asking because now they’re considering the possibility of a “No” response.  I think people will become more discerning and begin to take notice of the signs that someone doesn’t want to let a child pet their dog.

What About Kids That Rush Up Without Asking?

Even if you’re saying “No” to someone asking to pet your dog, please do reinforce that behavior of asking because there are plenty of kid and adults who do not ask.

If you are confronted by a wandering child pursuing your dog, you will need to be very directive.  If you have kids of your own, it becomes second nature to boss other people’s kids around, but I know it can feel awkward if you’re not used to it.  Expect to use a “stop” hand signal and use very direct language:  “Wait.  My dog needs more space.”  Or, “Stop!  Stay where you are.”  If you get into the sweet talking, “Wait a minute, honey, I’m not sure my dog is comfortable right now, OK?,” you’re done for.

My rule of thumb is that I will not consider letting a child touch my dog unless he or she is developmentally able to carry on a conversation with me.  If all they can do is repeat after their Mom, “Can I pet your dog?,” it’s not going to happen.  And, yes, parents are usually annoyed with me, but the more we all set limits for our dogs and children, the more normal it will seem that babies/toddlers should not be experimenting on other people’s dogs.

Below is a series of unused clips I shot for my Dogs Like Kids They Feel Safe With film.  The time limit didn’t allow for this segment and the clips are completely unpolished.  Watch at least the beginning, though, to see the body posture and words used to dissuade a running child.

Just say, “No,” and see what happens!



  1. My dog is very aggressive with strangers, so i put a muzzle on him, it’s not comfortable but it’s for safety. Most people stay away from him, (he is a black pit/lab) but kids aproach him anyway, i just tell them “i’m sorry, but he bites” that keeps them away, far far away.

  2. i think a owner has a right to say no to strangers petting a dog if a dog is not used ot kids say no to prevent bites also it is the owners reponsibility what happens with a dog i dont mind saying no if people pet my dog i always say no to strangers when it comes to petting dogs i dont think a child shoudl be allowed to pet any dog it sees not all are kid friendly

  3. i have a big bernese mountin dog and i dont let just anyone walk up and pet her if she is not use to a person i tell them please dont pet my dog and walk on and the person gets the message i dont let small kids pet my dog because i am traing her to be a watch dog
    i dont trust kids around my dog so were i live it is quiet and not to many kids
    my dog loves outdoors

  4. i have a dog and dont let strangers pet he unless she is ok with them
    i alwyas tell people she is not use to strangers and make my dog sit and be calm and people are ok with that
    certain people can pet my dog i dont allow kids to pet my dog i jsut say my dog iwll not be use ot kids petting her

  5. I would think one could just keep walking? Or maybe only take your dog out running so you’re moving too fast for people. Honestly if someone tried to pet my dog and I said no and a parent gave me the stink eye for it I’d just flat out say “Don’t give me that look. You’re rude. My dog is MY dog. I’m responsible for protecting him and I neither need nor want strange children or adults pawing at him. If you want your kids to pet a dog, get your own dog. Dog’s aren’t public property.”

    It’s so BEYOND rude that people think this is acceptable behavior. I also think if you walk with your dog on the side of you away from the oncoming people traffic and walk your dog when there are less people around, all those things can help.

    I think this is a bigger problem with “cute fluffy dogs” and “friendly looking dogs” than bigger/scarier looking dogs. So those of us who prefer those scruffy cute mutt dogs usually get approached by more entitled jerks who think they have a “right” to pet our dog. I don’t care about making them angry. They aren’t my friends. They’re total, rude, strangers. Maybe they NEED to be told more often so they’ll stop being so entitled with pet owners. Like someone mentioned up thread… they don’t ask to pet their children and then get upset when the parent feels, understandably, freaked out.

  6. Thanks for this post, and to all the commenters! It shows me I need to nut up and not be afraid of seeming mean. Protecting my family comes first, and I’d rather be seen as nasty by rude people who don’t matter anyway than let my kid get mauled in the face by a filthy stranger. Wonderful, wonderful post!

  7. I’ve never had a problem telling people that no, they may not pet my dog. But then, the dogs aren’t mine; I’m a dogwalker. Very often it was because the animal is people-shy. A Great Dane I used to walk as a puppy — who grew to adult size in under a year — was a bolter, so I learned very fast to stop people well beyond his comfort zone of fifteen feet, at least until I could train him to simply walk on if he wasn’t interested in looking. It didn’t help that he was very striking: a Harlequin with blue eyes, and very elegant once he grew out of awkward-puppy phase. But still, at 11 months and 190lbs, it was NOT FUN to have a poor startled puppy trying to book it because some fool ran up behind him and tried to touch him. So I learned a simple phrase: “No, you can’t pet him.” I would /never/, /ever/ offer an explanation, because the other person didn’t need to know all that.

    Occasionally, though, I would use nicer strangers to desensitize the dog. People who would walk up carefully and ask — and WAIT FOR A RESPONSE — got to hand him a treat to help him see that strangers are not bad. Eventually, I could get him to stand still and look at admirers based on that. If he wasn’t feeling it, he would simply walk behind me, which was rewarded.

  8. I’ve got a staffy so people are generally scared of my dog anyway 🙂 Thing about it is, he wouldn’t mind if a child hung out of his ears.

  9. I really loved this post. I am cross posting on my blog. My partner thought it was awesome.

  10. Every day, EVERY DAY, I get little kids from every street literally run from their front yards and down the street shouting to each other “lets go pet those dogs”. They already have it in their heads that it is ok for me to allow them pet my two huge 75 pound (each) dogs, assuming they are not going to get bitten. I am going to train my dogs this safety move. I love kids, but I don’t want them to get hit by a car when running across the street to pet my dogs, plus the parents are ticked off (at the kids, not me) for coming up to a stranger with strange dogs.

  11. Oh my, my little Twix. How I miss his puppyhood! He was and still is a wonderful little boy! 🙂 Hard to believe he is a year old now. 🙂

  12. I had this problem with my Alaskan Klee Kai. Who doesn’t want to pet a toy husky? BB does not like stangers, children or other dogs. He appears calm in these circumstances because of all the counter conditioning and training we’ve done, but he is still not the kind of dog children should pet. I am not usually an assertive person, but I think BB came into my life to help me say “NO” and mean it.

  13. I got to do this just yesterday! A young man holding a baby of maybe 6-8 months asked if the baby could pet my dog. He wanted her to be happy around dogs “when I get my dog back.” (I didn’t ask for more information.) I said no, and then explained that my 20 month old English Shepherd has recently developed a dislike for children (true) and that it wasn’t a good idea to allow a baby to interact with ANY dog, including his own. I also told him it was Dog Bite Prevention Week, and I was doing my part. Panda and I walked on 🙂

  14. Love this. I always say No. The other day, a kid actually followed me and my dogs on his bike asking, “Why?? Why can’t I pet your dogs?” Are you kidding me…

  15. I have a wonderful Golden retriever puppy (9months) and he doesn’t like to be on the head. And everybody who wants to pet your pet them on the head or approach their face close to the face of my puppy. He is a puppy and he is unpredictable. He is not a rescue I adopted him at 8 week and socialized him a lot. I feel very bad but he doesn’t like it. I’m training him slowly to accept to be pet but it takes time. Sometimes I would like to make him a vest saying I’m working don’t pet me! I’m doing agility and rally with him and some people think because you are doing it he should be very friendly. I had more problems when he was a puppy now he is big and people don’t do it so much. Thanks for the No you pet my dog day it helps me to feel more comfortable to say no!

  16. I like the idea of saying, “No he has mange!” or poison ivy or some other nasty contagious sounding thing–that’ll probably get people moving away fast . . . 🙂

  17. I agree! What a wonderful idea of the “Not petting my dog day. I never can understand why people feel you are obligated to let their children pet your dog, just because you have one in a public place. Then you say no and you get the “stink eye”! I don’t ask to pet their children so why is my refusing to let them pet my dog and insult? I just don’t understand but I also don’t have any problem with saying “no.” I usually say my dog is “working” right now and can’t be petted as we are training but thanks for asking.

  18. One of the methods i’ve used with off-leash children rushing my dog (totally kidding about the off-leash but sometimes i wish they were on leashes, like those little monkey backpacks w/ the tail as a leash? It woudl have saved my dog from being latched on to around the neck by a strange toddler who RAN up from behind)… If the child is kindergarten age or older I say loudly “RED LIGHT!” I’ve had almost every child stop dead in their tracks and look at me… which gives me the great opportunity to educate them. I found when i told kids “stop!” they actually got scared of me or ignored me (think they learned to tune out when their parents say stop? I think so).

    I love the idea of a “no you can’t pet my dog day” I have to say it regularly with my foster who is very uncomfortable around kids and some people give me the NASTIEST looks… i’m like hey, i just save your child from being barked at and terrified… why be mad about that?!

  19. So timely, we just published Alaska Dog News May/June issue with a short comment written by a local dog owner who has problems with people petting her reactive dog. As I said in the description on Facebook “Timely enough this is “NO You Can’t pet my dog day!” Maybe you don’t want to encourage your dog to jump up on strangers, maybe you don’t want the slobbery, cookie smeared face of a 3 year old coming that close to your dogs fangs, or maybe you’d just like to be left alone. It doesn’t make you bad…” My lab lapped up a toddler’s face before I could move and banged him in the lip with his tooth. I hightailed it out of there be for I could be sued. I included the link to this page.
    Linda Henning
    Alaska Dog News.

  20. SNORT!!! I love this. We should get t-shirts.

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