Should I Correct Someone Else's Kid?

Let me start with this: there is no dog I would trust more, ever, with an unknown child than Misaki. In fact, I'm willing to bet she's a better and more trustworthy babysitter and caregiver than most day cares, but that's another topic for another day.

We are lucky with her. We know that. She loves people and will go out of her way to meet them. She isn't pushy, unless you count the nosing of legs, but she'll go over to people and stand expectantly at their feet, tail wagging (happy, effusive tail wagging, not the wary, anxious kind - we know the difference) and looking up with those chocolate brown eyes, until the person acknowledges her, preferably with skritches. It doesn't matter what age, gender, race - she's excited to meet people. (We joke she'd do whatever she could to help out someone robbing our house if it meant getting loved up.)

A lot of dogs aren't like this. We know this too, because of our experiences with Ruby the Akita. In fact, way back when in the early days of this blog I posted a plea to other dog owners about keeping their dogs on leash specifically because of what we dealt with her. If there is a spectrum of how well a dog gets along with strangers, Misaki is on one end and Ruby almost the polar opposite. She thought she was excited to meet people, but then would get so freaked out she'd pee on the floor. She would jump and bark at the slightest sound (Akita barks = earthquakes). A ringing of the doorbell on TV would put her on edge for hours. We deliberately kept her away from people - and absolutely other dogs - because after trying to get her over her fears it just wasn't happening. Instead, we gave in and decided to keep her within her comfort zone, for better or worse.

With Ruby we always told the neighborhood kids they could not pet her. Most of them were scared of the 90-pound Akita, ripped with muscles and a mouth full of sharp teeth. With Misaki? We don't worry in the slightest. Provided the kids ask politely we let them, because how could you resist this?

You can't. No one could. She puts up with a lot too. Most kids don't know how to properly approach a dog, which is somewhat darkly comical considering most of them freak out over a spider while the dog could rip their face off with one bite. She wouldn't, but she could. She lets them roughly pet her, give her kisses, put their face right up to hers, and her tail will wag wildly the entire time. The worst she might do is sniff their face and huff at them, possibly blowing a little spit on their cheeks.

We trust Misaki, but we know her. These kids? They shouldn't be so trusting. Chances are if they approach her like this that's how they approach any dog. If they had tried that with Ruby they might be dead. Heck, other Shibas wouldn't necessarily respond as pleasantly as her. I can probably count on one hand using three fingers the number of kids who have approached Misaki - a dog they do not know - in the right manner. (This is where I link to this fantastic Huffington Post piece by Sophia Lin regarding the proper way to approach a dog and how to recognize anxiety and fear reactions - hat tip to The Misanthropic Shiba for posting on Facebook. This should be required reading for everyone: parents, children, adults, old people, whomever.)

Every time another kid puts a hand on either side of her face and gives her nose bumps, which she enjoys, I think I should say something. I feel I should say they shouldn't do that, it's not the right way to approach a strange dog. I feel like I should show them the proper way.

But I don't. It's not my kid. I don't have kids, don't plan on having kids. This is something their parents should be teaching them, right? (And no, the parents are never around - not on the sidewalk and not at the park. Yes, they SHOULD be, but they aren't, and the fact they should be is a completely different discussion. Unfortunately the parents aren't in this equation.) And also, most parents don't like strangers correcting their children, even if they are right. The last thing I want to deal with is have some kid go whining home to their parents about how this guy yelled at them for petting his dog, and then at some point that parent wants to have a discussion with me.

On the flip side, if that kid gets his face torn off by the next dog he tries to approach that way, will I feel guilty when I see the story on the news? Do I have an obligation to correct these kids? Should I start? Do I have to take the time to explain to them the right way to approach a strange dog, even though all Misaki wants to do is smell their face?

This is where I turn to you, Internet. I'm going to post this on Facebook, my Twitter account, and Misaki's tumblr blog, and I'm hoping the Shiba community - and the dog community as a whole - can give some insights on this topic. Has this happened to you? Do you say something? How do you do it? Do you feel a societal obligation that you should say something?

Please, leave comments and start a discussion - I want to see where this goes. And thank you!


  1. I found this through Tumblr.

    I just wanted to say that, as a parent of a young child, teaching my daughter dog etiquette is an absolutely necessary thing. She is three now, and I will not let her approach a strange dog at all. If we're out walking and someone comes by with a dog, I pick her up. Luckily, she's pretty shy and has little desire to do so, but she still knows never to touch. I think it is just too dangerous for her, at such an unpredictable age, to be allowed to come up to a stranger's dog. She practices being nice with my dogs, who are used to her and accept her, but even so I do not leave her alone with them EVER (even if I just have to go to the bathroom).

    I guess I might sound paranoid (my dogs are very well-behaved and have never given a single sign of aggression) but I know that if something were to happen I could never forgive myself. I can't imagine parents who would just let their kid run up to a strange dog.

    As for my own dogs, two are fine with strangers but my third sounds like a little bit like your Akita. He just does not like strangers. He doesn't get violent, but he becomes very nervous and frightened, so we don't let people come near him. I feel like I've given up, and I should be doing more to make him okay, but I just can't risk him hurting somebody. He's great with people who come to my house, just not people out in the world.

    Anyway, long and rambly comment aside, I agree with you. I know, for myself, I would not mind someone kindly telling my child the correct way to approach their dog. All dogs are different, and like different things. If someone were to nicely instruct my daughter (when she is older) on the best way to approach their dog, I'd be really happy and grateful. I mean, I would be mad if someone like, yelled at my child (unless it was a certain kind of situation, like there was an immediate danger of injury or something, than anything goes), but I see nothing wrong with kind or gentle corrections or instructions.

  2. Once when I was walking Yuki, a 10-year-old-ish boy threw 2 rocks at her to "get her attention". I didn't yell, but I definitely had the mad face, stern voice going. I also asked him where his Mom was and went to talk to her. She cared even less than the boy did.

    Unfortunately, for every 1 kid who knew doggy-etiquette, there were 10 more who RAN up screaming, thrusting arms and hands everywhere, (1 even stepped on her foot) so now Yuki growls if any kid approaches too fast. That deters them and the parent quickly tells their kid to back off.

    For the kids who approach calmly and quietly, Yuki will sniff them in interest and let them pet her. Sometimes they go straight for the top of her head, in which case I just smile and tell them she realllyyy likes skritchies on the side of her neck.

    In most cases, I do not think it is my place to teach them about dog etiquette, nor do I think their parents would appreciate it. I will tell them how Yuki likes to be rubbed just so it's a good experience for everyone. If Yuki looks uncomfortable, I will tell them "Please don't do that". Although 1 kid tried to uncurl her tail very roughly, she was grabbing and pulling it, she did get the angry voice to stop from me.

  3. @Anon: Trust me, you don't sound paranoid at all. Part of being a parent (I'm guessing, since I'm not one, but I feel that way about Misaki). Appreciate the comment!

    @Shelley: Kids threw rocks at Yuki?! Did you ask them how they would feel if you threw rocks at them to get their attention?!

    I think what I'll likely end up doing is strongly discouraging the face to face, and tell the kid that's how kids end up on the news with dog bites. Is that too harsh? :) The other parts of dog etiquette...sure, they need to be taught, but how often am I going to have the spare 15 minutes to do something their parents should be doing? Maybe I should just print out that link I posted from Huffington and carry around a few copies.

    "Hey, keep your face away from hers. Never put it by a dog you don't know. Your odds are not good. There, just the skritches. And here, take a look at this. Wait, here's two - bring one to your parents too. Have a nice day!"

  4. With Conker, NOBODY is allowed to pet him when he's on-leash. Ever, the end. If he's off-leash and he'll get close to you and you want to pet him, I'll tell you how to do it right and you might get the chance. If you don't listen, he'll just run off when you get too close.
    But when he's on-leash, no. Just not a good idea. He can't escape and he knows it, and he WILL bite if pushed too far.

    That aside, my other two dogs love everybody. They don't care if you pet them roughly or give them hugs and kisses. However, if a kid wants to pet them, I always instruct them how to do it right. If they don't, I kindly tell them not to do that, the dog doesn't like it, and re-instruct them how to do it again.
    Rude, loud, or pushy kids and people don't get to pet any of the dogs. If they won't calm down and be nice to all of my dogs, they don't get to interact with them.

    A couple people have reached for Conker when I told them not to. Adults get yelled at. Kids who scare him are firmly told not to do that again, he (or another dog) might bite. If they ignore me then they get a yell, parents around or not.
    I give kids a second chance. Older people should know better and listen to the dog's owner the first time, so they don't.

  5. That sounds completely fair to me.