Petting a Dog, In the Age of Consent

Hand reaching out to pet a smiling mixed-breed dog at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.

I can relate to Joe Biden.

If you were to interview those I’ve met in the past, you’d find many who would describe me as “handsy.” I never meant to act inappropriately; I’m just an affectionate person, and when I see a cute dog, I can’t help but want to touch it. You know the feeling?

It’s an unfortunate truth: If our pup friends could speak (or tweet), nearly all of them would have #MeToo moments to share.   

Wrapped in a death-grip by an overeager hugger? Yep.

Thumped repeatedly on the head by a towering stranger? Daily.

Surrounded by a mob of kids, with no available escape route? *shudder*

Public discourse has finally acknowledged that people (even women!) should have sovereingty over their own bodies. Now, it’s time to expand that circle to include dogs.

Getting to First Base

So what are the jelly-hearted among us to do when faced with an irresistibly adorable dog?

What’s considered polite in greeting a new human acquaintance—approachingly directly and making sustained eye contact—is considered rude to downright threatening in the canine world. Instead, after receiving permission from the dog’s human to greet said doggo, turn your body and your gaze so you’re not directly full-frontal.

Stay relaxed. Try to summon some chill, even if the dog in question looks like a baby polar bear and you can feel the squeals rising up your windpipe. Slowly blink your eyelids, yawn, put on an easy smile. Squat down and gently extend a hand.

Getting to Second Base

Pray for some reciprocal interest, that doggo deems you worthy of a sniff. He might not. If he doesn’t approach after you’ve spent a few minutes chatting gamely with his human companion, collect the pieces of your broken heart and move along.  

If he does approach, let him give you a sniffover before you reach out to touch. DO NOT aim for the top of his head! Terribly uncouth to dive in like that. Instead, sink your fingers gently into his chest, neck or shoulder.

A white Siberian Husky revels in some neck scratches after a dogsled outing.

Getting to Third Base

Maybe you’ve hit the jackpot and you found a leaner (Golden Retrievers, I’m looking at you). Revel in the full-bodied pressure against your legs. Slowly expand your scratching range, asking the human if Jasper (by now, you should be on a first-name basis) has any favorite places to be rubbed, or sensitive spots to avoid.  

Resist the urge to wrap him up in a tight squeeze. Watch for signals indicating that this is way more awesome for you than it is for him: panting; yawning; lip-licking; ears flattened against his head; tail wedged between his hind legs; eyes averted. If at any point the dog backs away or looks uncomfortable, stop. Respect his space and autonomy. Maybe stick your hands in your pockets, or start juggling something if you can’t trust yourself not to pursue doggo for one more touch.

But, Dog willing, the encounter has been mutually gratifying and you’re both riding a wave of oxytocin.

Hitting a Home Run

If after loving up and down on this improbably cute dog the owner says, “Hey, actually, I’ve got a lot going on in my life. Would you like to have this dog?” SAY YES. Take him home, start an Instagram for him, and count your lucky stars. And, don’t forget to grant permission to the rest of us jelly-hearted pushovers when we pass your dog on the street and ask, the desparation barely concealed in our quivering voices, if we can say hello.   

Kim Wishcamper