Is it ever okay to approach a dog that we do not know? What is a dog’s instinctive response when we approach him? How can we protect a dog that we see is playing near traffic?
A few days ago Jane was talking to a young man named Steve who asked that question, “How did he get hit by a car?” When Steve was younger, he too had seen a dog off-leash and near traffic and, worried that the dog might get hit by a car, had walked toward that dog to try to grab her by her collar to bring her home. That dog too, like me, had run in exactly the opposite direction from the approaching person and had run, just like me, into the street. That’s what we dogs generally do.
I was luckier than that dog. That dog died. And for years after that, Steve felt badly. Even as he was telling Jane about it, his voice trailed off as he seemed to contemplate the scene, saying, ‘I felt badly about it.”
But one thing is for sure: We dogs don’t like it when people whom we do not know approach us, especially if they approach us suddenly and if our owner is not there to tell us that this person is “okay”. This is the case even if the person approaches us in order protect us, as happened in my situation and in Steve’s situation. Our dog instinct is to run away from this person which, sadly and unfortunately, may mean that we run right into exactly what the person is trying to protect us from: in this case, into the traffic. We dogs perceive the person – though a good person with good intentions – as a threat, and ignore the danger of the traffic.
Steve said that the best thing to do if a person sees an off-leash dog that is about to run into traffic is to stand still and firmly say “Come” to the dog, and it’s even better if you can get a bone or some treat to entice us to come to you. Also, everybody else should move away from the off-leash dog, further away from traffic. Nobody’s asking me, but I’d say that Steve has it right. Especially the part about offering us a treat.
So I guess the answer to the question is: Don’t approach a dog that you don’t know if the dog’s owner is not there with the dog - even if you are trying to help the dog.