Not all dogs are comfortable around strangers, and some may growl or nip those who approach them. If your dog is reactive, a service dog, or perhaps suffering from a medical condition, it's perfectly acceptable to ask people not to pet your dog in a friendly but firm manner.
Even if your dog is perfectly polite around new people, it's good to give your dog some space from unwanted interactions with strangers. Plus, it saves you from having to speak with people you don't know when you're just not up for social interactions that day. Explore the ways to politely tell strangers that petting your dog is off limits.
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Make an "ask before petting" sign
For those who want to avoid confrontation, it may be best to let a sign do the speaking for you. You can either make a sign or purchase a patch to attach to your dog's harness that says something like "ask before petting" or "do not touch the dog."
Another option is to attach a yellow ribbon to your dog's collar to let people know that they shouldn't pet your dog. This is due to the association with the Yellow Dog Project, a not-for-profit organization that promotes giving dogs space around strangers. The organization encourages owners to attach a yellow ribbon to their dog's collar or leash to let others know that the dog needs a bit of space around people and other pets.
In case strangers you meet don't understand the meaning of the yellow ribbon alone, it's probably best to use the ribbon and the patch with your dog. This way, the message to leave your dog alone is clear without having to say a word.
Redirect the dog and stranger
The best way to prevent your dog from doing something you don't want is to redirect her behavior into something you do want. Did you know that the same is true for people?
Perhaps you want to socialize your dog to people without them petting her, so simply say something like, "My dog doesn't like pets, but he does like treats" and hand the stranger a treat to toss to your dog. Once the stranger has treated your dog, quickly head away, thanking the stranger as you go.
Another option is to say something like, "My dog doesn't like pets, but here's a trick for you" and then have your dog perform a trick. After the trick, head off on your way. This way, the stranger gets to interact with your dog but without physical contact, and your dog gets to perform a trick in front of an audience, making her more confident.
Do not pet my dog
Sometimes, the best way to politely tell strangers not to pet your dog is to come right out and say just that. "Please don't touch my dog" is a complete sentence and a polite way to get your point across. You can then keep moving to prevent any further interaction with the stranger.
If the stranger politely backs off and you wish to elaborate, you can always add a reason, including that your dog is reactive to strangers, that your dog is uncomfortable around strangers, that your dog is recovering from a medical procedure, or that your dog is not feeling well. However, some people may feel the need to tell you how all dogs love them and your dog will love them too. In these cases, let them know you're in a hurry and keep moving away to prevent unwanted pets.
Cautions with kids
When it comes to children, especially those who bound up to your dog without any parental supervision in sight, it's best to say, "Sorry, my dog doesn't want to be pet today" and place your body between the dog and the child, blocking interaction before walking away quickly. If necessary, pick up smaller dogs and head away to prevent any accidental nips from rambunctious interactions with kids.