Etiquette when meeting dog owners

I might be going to a sheltie gathering next week (yaay! shelties!) and I’ve been meaning to ask what are the customs when meeting dog owners. This also applies to people I meet walking their dog.

Firstly, how do I know if the owner minds stopping and talking about their dog? Is it rude if I don’t ask for the owner’s name or introduce myself? So far I’ve only asked for the dog’s name, as I thought the owner may not want to reveal too much about themselves. Lastly, how long do you think I can play with the dog for before the owner gets impatient?

If you are amongst other doggie folk they will forgive you for doting on their Puppykins. Truth be told, when I was doing the dogshow thing, it was totally normal to know the people by their dogs.

Jane Smith? Oh, she is Bowser the Bulldog’s mom, you remember her!

As a dog owner, I can say that dog owners LOVE when you dote over their dog. We are delighted to tell you our dog’s name, and will let you play with him until we run out of time. We might or might not tell you OUR name, but we certainly don’t care if you aren’t interested in our name. That just shows how cute you think our dog is, which we love.

One caveat: if the dog has a black or blue collar and leash, assume it is a boy. If pink or yellow, assume it is a girl. If it is some metrosexual color like purple or green, you can either ask, or avoid the issue all together.

That last caveat gets a huge eyeroll from me. Don’t assume, ask.
saje, female, detests pink, owns a female Lab who wears a chain collar and a black or leather leash

I don’t know about etiquette at a dog show, but I run into a lot of people walking their dogs. I always ask if it’s okay for me to greet their dog before I put a hand out or do any sort of interaction with pooch–if possible, before I even make eye contact with it. You never know how dogs will react, and the owner needs a chance to sit their dog, explain that he is just learning to be around others, etc.
I taught my kids this from day one, too. Kids who run up to random unknown dogs are likely to get bowled over or bitten.

And if the dog has a red collar, just assume it’s a Black Labrador! :smiley:

Since the day I can remember, I’ve always just greeted (and usually played with) just about every dog I ever see. When I leave my cave and go out into the world, I measure the success of any day by counting how many doggies I meet. Sometimes I hang out at dog parks or other public parks just to meet dogs. I had a 12-dog day once at a park in Pismo Beach.

I don’t even ask the owner anything. I just address the dog directly, saying “Hi, doggie!” Most owners are cool with that. So are most dogs. Many dogs owners, however, seem to act possessive about their dogs. They draw in the leash, pulling the dog close to themselves. Presumably, they are assuming other people are bothered by dogs, and want to keep their dog from interacting.

Many of these will let me play with their dog as soon as they see I’m cool with it. But some do not – they really do seem “possessive” of their dogs. Some tell me their dogs aren’t friendly. And these are the dogs who do tend to be less stranger-friendly. My take on this: When people pull in their dogs any time a stranger is nearby, I think the dogs pick up on that, and learn to become stranger-unfriendly as a result. I think owners are thus, inadvertently perhaps, teaching their dogs to be stranger-unfriendly.

Dogs are honest. If they don’t want to play, they will let you know with plenty enough advance warning. I’ve been snarled at a few times. But I’ve only been nipped some very small numbers of times (like I could count on my fingers), and never once been bitten or otherwise attacked beyond that.

Oh, and as for the dreaded Pit Bulls: I’ve met a few of those. IMHO, they are way high on the friendly breed list. They tend to be aggressively friendly (although I think Boxers are even more so). Boxers, Pit Bulls, and similar breeds like to play rough, and I wonder if a lot of the hate is coming from people who misinterpret that.

Please don’t do this. Always ask permission to touch the dog before you do. Despite what this poster believes the dog owner knows their own dog and their triggers better than you can determine by looking at how he’s currently standing.

My oldest dog had a bad experience as a puppy with a male vet with floppy sleeves. Despite all of our best efforts he still sometimes triggers with large men with floppy sleeves and we muzzle him for all vets now. You see, for 90% of the population he’s an adorable sweetheart but the problem is for those he triggers on he fakes being sweet and adorable til you’re close enough to lunge at. So we’re careful. Probably more careful than necessary but when I tell you not to touch him it’s because I know he’s had a bad day or he’s in pain or some other reason that makes him more likely to react badly should the slightest thing go wrong. It’s for your protection sure but it’s mostly for his. Regardless of how idiotic the person is who just jumped in his face, yelled at his owner for being “mean for not letting them pet the puppy” and who still stuck their hand in his mouth, if he bites it’s his life on the line not yours.

Rereading this is more intense than the poster deserved but I’ve been shuffling my dogs between friends houses and hotels for 4 days and been without power for 6. The dogs are on edge and we had a run in last night with a woman while we were walking them. She seemed to feel that because we were walking on a public sidewalk she had a right to do whatever she liked to them. Unfortunately in addition to the dogs being tired and on edge, so am I so it was a fairly unpleasant exchange of words but she got to keep her fingers so I’m calling it a win.

This. As Moonlitherial said, ask first. “What a beautiful (breed of dog).” or “Is that a (breed of dog)?” “Is s/he friendly?” Then commence with the belly-rubs…

In my case, I’d have handed you one of the tennis balls I always carried, and my dog would have a new best friend as long as your arm could keep up the throwing. Sporting breeds…

Proper etiquette when meeting dog owners requires that you sniff each others’ butts before any play-wrestling. :slight_smile:

I ask before interacting with the dog. If it’s just a casual encounter I don’t typically share personal information with the owner, but may inquire about the dog’s age or similar trivia.

I can’t recall a single person who has ever stopped to pet my dog asking me for my name. I’m not offended. Like somebody else said (I’m too lazy to scroll back and find it, sorry), I often talk directly to the dog and don’t do more than smile at the owner unless I’m going to get close enough for petting.

As the owner of a dog who is so friendly he will sit down and wait if he sees somebody a hundred yards down the street, I sometimes kind of forget to ask if a dog is friendly before approaching him, but at least I’m not quite dumb enough to stick my hand in lunging range without asking.

I do tend to pull my dog in a little if somebody is walking on the sidewalk–not for their protection, but just out of courtesy. If given the chance, Winchester will sniff them, follow them, and/or make a general nuisance of himself. I usually hold him close until I can judge how any oncoming pedestrian might feel about him.

And on that note–does anybody else think less of people who don’t smile at your dog when they pass by? I realize it’s stupid and there’s no reason for a stranger to smile at my dog, but he’s cute, dammit.

Thanks for your replies. Wow, I didn’t know so many people don’t ask for the owner’s name, especially in friendly America. The gathering didn’t have as many shelties as I’d like, but it was still fun.

Whatever happened to smiling, saying “Good mornin,’” and “that’s a fine dog you have.”


I walk a lot on a system of open trails where dogs are permitted. (I don’t have a dog of my own; I’m just out walking.) The place is very dog-friendly, and so am I. I tend to react with “body language” to the dog’s own body language.

For instance, if the dog is tugging at its leash and obviously wants to come over and sniff at my legs, I will slow down, smile at the owner, and then wait to see what happens. If the owner pulls the dog back, then I just mosey on my way. If the owner slows down also, and smiles at me, I might next hold my hand down and out, where the dog could sniff it, if the owner permitted it by moving closer.

A kind of “negotiation” done wordlessly. I indicate I’m open to “making friends” and if the owner is also open, then my hand gets a lickin’! Everybody’s happy.

I would never make a direct approach, just going up to the dog and touching it or even getting near, without this kind of “give and take” of implied permission. Just grabbing is way rude.

And, yes, definitely, I often say, “Lovely puppy!” or “Sweet doggie!” or something like that. Nobody’s ever taken offense as of yet!

I never openly ask, “May I pet your dog?” because I hold that to be just a little too assertive or aggressive. But I know people who do, and dog owners are usually pretty much okay with that. Now and again, someone will say, “Oh, she isn’t really good with strangers.” The way I do it, the owner never actually has to say anything; if they tighten up on the leash, that’s all the clue I need to maintain my own distance.

Oh, this was at a dog park where the dogs were running around off-leash. Are you less likely to ask the owner if you can pet their dogs in this case? Sometimes you can’t even identify the owner.

Be careful with petting strange shelties. They can be nervous, snappy little things.

I find that the regular rules are kind of suspended at an off-leash park. Lots of people don’t follow their dogs too closely, but the good owners at least have an eye out, and people around here aren’t very likely to bring an aggressive, unfriendly dog to a park. At a dog park, it’s usually the dog’s choice whether or not he gets petted–many of them will just decide they like you and do whatever is necessary for a good scratchin’. I know my dog pretends he doesn’t even know me so other people will pay attention to him. :slight_smile:

You may be missing something about doggie body language, but more so, you are missing something about doggie owner body (and verbal) language.

Of course when I say “Hi doggie”, the owner understands that I’m proposing to pet the dog (and yes, of course I do this at just enough distance to notice if the dog will try to approach me). The owner invariably responds one way or another, indicating if petting the dog is welcome – typically by letting out on the lead, or drawing it in, or saying something positive or negative.

At Trinopus described, it’s a (largely non-verbal but partly verbal) negotiation between me and the owner, even though it’s superficially directed at the dog. Actually, dogs are more friendly more often than their owners are, but whether they are or not, they never lie about it.

It’s been my life experiences the dog makes the determination whether/how to greet a stranger.

I run my dog in the field behind the school across the street from my house. Tons of other people do. Most of us know each other. The dogs go off leash there, and when a dog runs up to me I greet it and let it sniff me unless it is too jittery. But it is good to be able to read doggie language and greet them in the right way.
People are generally very good about asking to pet a dog. When my dog was in guide dog puppy training we were out all over, in supermarkets and restaurants and on public transit. Now she is retired kids still ask. And since she has an interesting story I’m happy to talk about her. Just the other day a kid and his father were in the field. The father told the kid to ask, and he did, and he got to pet her. He was interested in a dog, so I got to give my become a guide dog raiser spiel. (Vet care is free and the food is tax deductible!)