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Pet the Nice Doggie - at your peril.

Sammi J., a canine client of mine, hates strangers. Whenever her owner takes her in public, she is plagued by people who automatically approach her. Requests to leave her alone fall on deaf ears. Sammi J. has two major  problems: she is cute, and she is dangerous.

Many people share a basic assumption that all dogs are nice. If they see a dog in public they assume that the animal  is well behaved. They approach the animal as if they have a constitutional right and obligation to "pet the nice doggie".

 Approaching a strange dog in public can be risky. You are assuming that the owner is in control of the dog, and that the dog wants to be approached. Many pet owners get dogs for protection. They reinforce this tendency at  home whenever Fido barks at strangers or snarls at the postman. Then they take the animal in public, on a leash. Fido is now unable to escape whatever danger appears, since he is strapped to his owner. If he has any territorial  or protective tendencies, this is the scenario that will bring them out. Fido can neither escape nor surrender. He will be most likely to react violently to any perceived threat.

 Regardless of how well you relate to animals, there are dogs out there that will not like you. That is because some dogs don't like anyone other than their owner. The fact that you were raised with that breed of dog may not  impress that individual dog. It is not your experience with that type of dog that is critical, it is that particular dog's experience with people like you. The crux of the problem is that we are not really looking at an individual dog. We  are remembering dogs we have known in the past, and expecting this dog to be the same. That may not be a wise expectation. Breed reputations are actually very poor indicators of what a particular animal will do. Even though a  particular breed is known for gentle temperament, the individual dog may have learned to be aggressive.

Another facet of this problem is the common belief, spawned by the scriptwriters of Lassie, that dogs can tell the  good guys from the bad guys. It is very embarrassing to bend over a sweet little dog and meet lashing teeth and snarls. If you feel com-pelled to protect your ego at the expense of your skin, you mayreceive a nasty wound for your vanity.

Meeting a dog in public can be a pleasurable experience - or a trip to the emergency room. Here are some hints that may help you improve your canine etiquette.

 * Before making eye contact , or bending over the dog, ask the owner for permission to interact with the animal. Make sure you wait for a reply. Do not assume that the owner will grant permis-sion.

 * Greet the dog by turning sideways and squatting down. The dog will feel much more comfortable if you are on his level. Towering over a dog is perceived as a menacing gesture.

 * Avoid direct eye contact. Dogs use eye contact as a way of intimidating each other. If you lock stares with an aggressive or protective dog it will try to bite you. A fearful dog on a leash will to intimidating stares by biting in self  defense. Use your peripheral vision to watch the dog.

* Offering the back of your hand , or a fist will not protect you from a bite. A dog's teeth are designed to cut  through ligaments, tendons and muscles. Offer your hand, slowly, and underneath the dog's mouth. Holding your hand over the dog's head will be viewed as a threat.

 * Watch for signs that the owner does not trust the dog. Spiked collars that pinch the dog's neck when tightened are not used on controllable dogs. Muzzles and harnesses often cover the owners lack of control over the dog.

 * Be cautious of allowing children to greet strange dogs in public. Even a playful puppy can accidentally rip a child's cheek with a claw, or tooth. If you are in doubt about letting your child meet a dog, or of letting a strange child  meet your dog, don't do it.

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