I was guilty of doing this as well before I started communicating with animals.
I remember, a few years ago, I came across a puppy in class that was beyond adorable. I reached out to pet it, because I mean, who can resist a puppy right?
At the same time, his guardian turned her back to everyone that had reached out and said NO! She explained that this was a puppy that was extremely fearful, skittish, and had been severely abused before. She only brought him here to get accustomed to people being around, and wasn’t ready to be petted by so many people.
That was an eye-opener!
Many rescue animals come from problematic, abusive, or traumatic backgrounds. I’ve met so many animals that were severely abused, or left to live their life in dreadful conditions, and many never really fully recover from their past experiences.
Although it may seem that the dog in question is calm and friendly, you can never know what may cause them to reverse back to any defensive mechanisms they may have adopted previously. For example, there may be certain noises, smells, movements or even voice tones that trigger the extreme fear they once felt.
There are many reasons why you should never pet a dog without expressly asking the guardians permission. Although the dog may seem extremely cute and super friendly, you don’t exactly know how s/he is feeling. Animals, just like humans, have several complex emotions that could impact their behavior and reaction to strangers, especially, if one suddenly goes up to them and pets them without warning. For all you know this could be one of the first times the dog is out in public and they aren’t quite ready for a stranger to touch them. That dog could see you as a threat and bite you or simply cower in fear. They may react in what looks like an aggressive manner but actually isn’t. They are often alot more scared than you are. When they growl, snap, lunge, or bare their teeth at you; it’s only so that they can protect and defend themselves from what they perceive to be a harmful situation.
A few other reasons you shouldn’t be approaching anyones dog without their permission are:
1) They may not be feeling well and may be on some kind of medication
2) The dog may be in the midst of training and really needs to focus
3) The dog may be in physical pain
4) They could be a service or guide dog and needs to be focussed on their person for service reasons
5) The guardian may have some difficulties, and may get hurt whilst holding on to their dog if they get excited or spooked easily
If you don’t know a dog and you would like to approach him, ask the owner if it is a good idea to pet their dog. If they say no, please don’t feel offended. Know that by leaving the dog to enjoy his walk, you have helped him and potentially avoided a dangerous situation.
Your safety is as much your responsibility as it is the dog owner’s.