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

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!

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  1. 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.

  2. 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?!

    1. That’s exactly what I was looking for, here: something quick to stop a child without being rude. “Red light” with a smile is perfect. Might even teach my dog “red light’ means to go behind me. 🙂

  3. 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.

  4. 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 . . . 🙂

  5. 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!

    1. One way to say “NO!”:
      I taught my dog “chin” means to rest her chin on an outreached palm. When people ask to pet her, I distract their rapid approach with “Oh, can you help me, please? I’m teaching my dog a new trick…” I tell them to hold their hand out, blah, blah, blah and if my dog won’t do it I can say “I guess she doesn’t feel like visiting today”
      Most people will have lost interest by then, anyway.

  6. 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…

  7. 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 🙂

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Thank you for posting this and a lot of good ideas and answers. Wish you had asked the angry mother who walked away if you could pet her child.

  11. I have Jack Russells and everyone seems to think they’re Eddie or Wishbone. But my male is sharp/shy and will bite. I’m so happy to find that I am not the only one to say ‘NO, you cannot pet my dog. He is reactive!’ (Much nicer than ‘HE BITES). Thanks for making DINOS a reality and helping us let people know its NOT alright to pat every dog in sight. Keep you kids away from strange dogs, and everyone will be safer.

  12. This is a great cue for a dog that reacts to anything–including children, other dogs, men in baseball caps, etc. It puts you in an “in-charge” position to the dog and tells him you will handle any situation that comes up. I have taught my dog-reactive dog that when an off-leash, “friendly” dog charges him, to put himself behind me and wait for instructions.

  13. This is sooo common. I have a reactive dog and a terrified dog. Quinn is reactive and will bark and lunge. Jojo is terrified of children and men. When we’re out for a walk or at a store I’ve had numerous children run up to us. I’ve gotten to the point I don’t care what other people think or say. I tell them “No’ and I don’t give an explanation. As of today, dogs are property, and they’re my property. I don’t have to explain why I won’t let a stranger drive my car, i don’t have to explain why I won’t let a stranger touch my dog!

  14. Yes!!! Excellent!
    f 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.

    1. That is so true! I used to try to explain “well, you know, my dog doesn’t really like for people to approach him that way….” Now I just pick up my dog, give the parent a smile and very directly say “he doesn’t like kids”. I’ve gotten more than a few glares, but better they be mad at me for not letting their kid pet my dog than them suing me when my dog bites their kid!

  15. Dog as a pet is very sweet to keep and gives a secure feelings also. Training makes a person more professional about the job. If you are giving training to dogs also the same result will come. Training should be proper and secure too. Some features 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.

  16. I have a 4 1/2 month onld dachshund puppy that is just as calm as ever with adults, even when they come to visit at our home. When out walking or pottying, sometimes small children come up and insist on petting him (Jazz). I have tried to explain that he gets overly excited around young children and other dogs, but they seem to not really care. Thanks to your posts, I will now say “NO” also to someone petting my dog.

  17. Or ya know teach your dog to be friendly or keep them home?!? Random happens. Surprises happen. People and kids happen! Train your dog or leave them home where they and everyone else is safe!

      1. Much easier to teach kids not to invade the space of others uninvited. Not only safer for the kids, it benefits society as a whole. People and kids happen because not enough people possess basic good manners nor do they teach their children how to behave appropriately and respectfully. May be that the dog is fine with kids but the person is not.

    1. I don’t think that the author is advocating taking a dog who is likely to bite to hang out at a playground, just that if your dog does not like to be pet by children it is OK to say no. I have a dog who is very well behaved, who you can walk through a crowd, who is fine with a polite greeting but who prefers to not be aggressively petted by people he first meets and is very uncomfortable with hug type petting. He still needs to go for walks, enjoys working stock at a farm, likes to swim at the lake. He should not have to be quarantined at home to keep people from trying to hug him. In reality, many dogs do not like to be hugged. Given a choice, he will avoid an aggressive greeter, choose to step behind me or if off leash leave the area. But you would be surprised how many times people, after being told that he does not care for that, will continue to reach out, bend over and grab for him while saying “oh its OK, dogs like me” or worse “oh well he will get used to it.” Umm, no. Ask the owner, if teh owner says no, move on. Unlike the OP it is children who are most likely to listen when I say no and adults who argue with me.

    2. or maybe you stay at home if you are not capable of keeping your hands to yourserlf.

    3. David – Consider that many dogs are well trained and comfortable out in the world, including around strangers. Some of those dogs though aren’t comfortable with strangers coming in to pet them. Most people rush in towards the head of the dog with both hands. (Consider how you’d feel.)

      This is normal behavior and not something a dog should be trained to tolerate when simple education and politeness can fix the situation.

  18. I love this! I have a beautiful black lab foster dog that is very nervous with new people in her space or patting her. I have to tell people no you cannot pat her and people immediately think she is a mean vicious dog and she’s not! She just needs to be comfortable and get to know you first. It makes it very difficult to get her adopted because people just don’t want to take the time to get to know her first. Very sad because when she loves you she loves completely. And she is gorgeous!

  19. After trying to decide on a good “reason” I decided I just don’t need one. Now when asked I simply say “No thank you” or “No, but thank you for asking” smile sweetly and walk away. Incoming children do get a STOP hand signal and quiet but firm and serious “NO TOUCHING!” I love everything about this article! My dogs are not public property any more than my purse or my own body is.

  20. Hi- I live in a populated tourist place and I have a serious problem with people – adults – who never ask but just go straight to touch my dog. I get he’s cute and friendly but I hate it and disturbs my walk. Any advice to clearly let people know the answer is no before they charge at me?

    1. I vote for saying “No, but thank you for asking”and physically stopping kids and outreached arms with my hand.
      I’m always ready to put my hand between my dog and an assertive human the same way I’d put my hand out to stop an assertive dog.

  21. I don’t mean to give a Gray area here if it’s a dog who likes to be petted by anyone including strangers I don’t mind someone petting my dog but if it’s a dog that’s protective of me I will not let a kid pet my dog my old dog was very sweet mode let anyone pet her But my new dog is also very sweet but that dog will not let people pet her because she’s protective of me I think it comes down to knowing your dog if you know that it could result in a kid being bitten than the answers know who cares if they feel that at least they don’t get hurt and if they ask why not I usually explain and I don’t ever get any like upset people they’re always very sweet to me when I explain

  22. Thanks for the great article – I have a German Shepherd who is well trained but is not comfortable when strangers try to touch him. It makes me very nervous when strangers rush up to him without asking me first. I also really enjoyed your paragraph about ‘Kids That Rush Up Without Asking’ and how to deal with that situation in a very firm manner. Better safe than sorry!

  23. This is such a good article and it’s helped me feel way better!

    I was at an outside event and my dog was chilling on our picnic blanket. Lots going on around us, but that’s fine with him. There was a toddler running around free, including going up to every dog with his arms outstretched. My dog isn’t comfortable with kids. I had to physically block him until his mom paid attention.

    Thing is, he kept doing it and I’d have to keep running physical interference. This resulted in his mom getting angry and complaining to other people that I shouldn’t have an unfriendly dog out there. I REALLY didn’t appreciate that.

    1. Ugh, I know that’s hard to navigate, Katie. Parents can feel embarrassed that their child is not following directions and end up venting that towards the person that doesn’t want the toddler up close to their dog. She may have been mad that day but you may very well have given her a self-realization moment to see that her child can learn better self-control and that would make it more pleasant for everyone.

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