I have experienced that people have different views on whether strangers should ask before petting an animal in lead. What is the norm on this? Is there any unspoken rule among dog owners?

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    I certainly prefer it. My dog can be very excitable so I like to have some control over the meeting. It's the norm at my dog training class ("my" as in I attend it, not I run it), even though we all know and trust each other. – BoBTFish Feb 16 '15 at 9:05
  • In my honest opinion, I think people that ask are usually more knowledge about dogs which is why they ask because they know there is a possibility that the owner does not want others to pet the dog or if the dog is aggressive. It is always better to ask whether it's for petting or ask if the dog is friendly or not – Huangism Feb 19 '15 at 14:08

It's polite to ask.

Some dogs don't mind. Some do. Some are aggressive in particular circumstances. These circumstances may be unpredictable.

Rescue dogs have fairly frequently formed negative associations with particular things. As an example - I know a dog who was absolutely terrified of carrier bags and prams*. If someone holding a carrier bag approached, he would 'go nuts' and whilst it never came to it, would probably be aggressive out of fear. (And he wasn't a small dog either - a GSD/Rottie cross).

But there's a good chance you simply wouldn't consider something innocuous as distressing to a dog, so out of purely good intentions, someone's been attacked by a dog.

No one wants that to happen. It distresses the dog, and if a dog ever bites a human they will be the one coming off worse. (As an owner, the best outcome is the other person understands. The worst is being prosecuted and having the dog destroyed).

So as a matter of courtesy - it's worth asking for explicit consent, especially if you're not 100% sure you would recognise the dog saying 'no thanks'.

* my current dog dislikes beards, hoods and high-vis jackets (and will bark at people). But is generally disgustingly soppy. If someone asks to 'say hello' I'll warn them that she might react if they have these things, and there are no misunderstandings.

  • My dog is afraid of children and unfortunately has learned that they do come in prams, so those are not allowed in his world anymore either – ThomasH Feb 27 '15 at 0:33

I've learned to ask when in any doubt, since I've known folks with assistance animals, who should never be distracted while they're on duty, and I know someone who fosters pups until they're ready for that training and needs cooperation in setting that on/off duty idea. You can usually tell by how the animal is being handed as you approach, if you're paying attention ... but it never hurts to ask. And it's polite in dog terms to let them approach you rather than vice versa.

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