Tips for Getting the Most out of Strangers’ Dogs -The Toast

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I’m good with dogs the way others are good at math, or tennis, or open-mouth kissing. It’s a gift, really — my ability to effortlessly interact all the different breeds. Some people might say I’m captivated by them but I believe that they’re captivated by me. The dogs, not the people. But the people too because of how good I am with the dogs. The owners take notice. They’ll say, “She’s usually not this friendly” or “Wow, he really likes you!” and I’ll think “I know.” But I never say it aloud, I just smile and nod like I’m an average person and not my great-with-dogs self.

Of course owning a dog is great — a little buddy to come home to every night who doesn’t mind that you wear Looney Tunes nightgowns and will even help you clean by eating food dropped on the floor.  But no dog interaction is quite as sweet as that of a stranger’s. Dogs you meet in public are the surprise onion ring in life’s grand order of french fries. They’re bonus dogs and they’re everywhere. And since I’m a kind and just person, I want you to be able to get the most out of them the way I do every damn day.


Essentially, there are two ways to pet someone else’s dog: with or without permission. It’s good to see someone out with their dog, approach them, and calmly ask “Hi, can I pet her or him?*” Usually they will say yes, like you anticipated. But sometimes the dog will be maladjusted and not used to the affection of strangers so you’ll get a hard “no.” That’s ok, and now you know instead of attempting petting to be brutally and hurtfully rebuffed by a bark, growl, or bite.

Now is also a good time to get the scoop from the owner. Ask questions like:

“What’s their name?”

“How old is she/he?”

“What breed are they?”

“Do you share ownership with a significant other or are you flying solo on this endeavor?”

It’s nice to pretend to want to know more about a person under the pretense of dog interaction. It gives the illusion of being social and equipped to handle small talk. But most importantly, it buys you time to get in all of your petting. The longer you chat the longer you pet. Learning the dog’s name is also crucial for future interaction. There’s no rush quite like spotting a dog that you’ve already met and being able to recall their name. It’s even sweeter when that dog is with a different owner and you know the dog and the dog knows you but the owner doesn’t know you’ve met before. It’s kind of the feeling you get when you have an office hookup and the next day only you two know and all of your coworkers are none the wiser, I would imagine.

There are other grayer areas of permission that are usually only practiced by more advanced petters like myself. Sometimes it’s difficult or awkward to ask about petting. A good move is to get the dog interested in you, making the dog and owner think it was the dog’s idea to approach you even though you know the real truth. This can be broken down into three easy steps.

Contact: Lock eyes with the dog and make it recognize that it needs to be petted by you. More than walkies or treatsies, it longs for your touch.

Engagement: Wiggling suggestively or mouthing phrases like “HEEEEEY” or “Ohhhh hiiiii” at the dog will set their approach into motion. Keep in mind you’re trying to do this undetected by the owner. Concentrate on sending vibes over making gestures.

Approach: This is when the dog comes to YOU. Now you have no choice but to pet it. This was the dog’s idea and a good owner wouldn’t want to disappoint their beloved, now would they? Everyone is happy.

Then there are times when the owner isn’t present and this is your chance for a veritable free-for-all of permission-less petting. This usually happens when a dog is tied up outside a dog-free establishment.** Here you really need to exhibit caution during the approach. You could get bitten but also it could be worth it. Use good judgement. And remember to make the most of this private session and enjoy it fully. Allow the dog to jump up on you with abandon without the scrutinizing eyes of a jealous owner. Want to know their name? Check their tags without having to utter even a single word to an uppity Greg or Sarah. But remember there’s a time limit and no real way of knowing when their owner might emerge and spot you two together. If you do get “caught” it’s usually fine. Why would anyone place their dog in the arms of the public if they didn’t want it to be showered in kisses and love by attractive passersby? If they try to talk to you about their dog just be polite and pretend you didn’t totally already know the dog’s full name was Ash McGonagle and that they live on 101 Dog Fun St.

And finally, there will be instances when you’re approaching a leashed dog and owner, and you don’t have the time or wherewithal to stop and chat. You’re both in a hurry and a stop-and-pet is not imminent. But you need to get your fix. Do what I do and simply pass normally but with an outstretched hand. Lay it on flat on the dog’s back and keep walking while your palm sweeps over their body. What a thrill. You got that precious skin-on-fur contact and the dog barely knew what hit her or him. Life is sweet.

*Never misgender a dog. Always offer a choice of the pronouns her or him and absolutely never, under any circumstance, label a person’s dog IT. It is for chairs or plants — beings without the capacity for love that are incapable of rescuing humans from rubble and shitting out their entire life force because they ate something weird off the ground.

**Fucktown of lies

Angela Vitello is a freelance writer and professional dog-petter living in Brooklyn, NY.

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