The primary rule when interacting with an animal that isn’t yours is to ask the owner first, assuming the animal has an owner. When you’re meeting – or just greeting – a domesticated animal that isn’t yours, however, there are several other rules you might want to follow.
Ask the animal: Regardless of what kind of animal you’re meeting or greeting, after you ask the owner , ask the animal before you get too close – and especially before you touch it. If you come across someone walking their dog down the street, and the person says you can pet Fido, Fido may have a different idea – and you might get bitten. Here’s how to do this:
Step One: Slowly stretch out one hand towards the animal’s face, making sure that he or she can see you and your hand. Hold your hand palm-down, fingers slightly curled inward, with your thumb safely tucked behind them. Don’t make a fist but make sure that the tips of your fingers aren’t extended toward the animal. This will help keep you from being bitten if things go wrong.
Step Two: Let the animal sniff you. This one works great with cats, dogs, bunnies, and rodents. Extend your hand, but leave enough space that the animal in question can move towards you and investigate you. If they lick your hand, continue coming closer, or duck their head under your hand, then you’ve been given permission to touch them – but still take it slow and gentle.
Make sure the animal can see you. This is hardest, and most important, with larger animals, though smaller animals will have difficulty ‘seeing’ all of you as well. Horses and cows both have eyes more on the sides of their heads than in front, so stand slightly off to one side, and make sure that they’re looking at you.
Go Slow. Always move slowly around an unfamiliar animal – and I suggest doing the same around animals with whom you are familiar, just in case.
Do yourself a favor; don’t startle an animal bigger than you. Surprising an animal, especially a large one, puts you in greater danger. I’d personally rather be bitten by a startled dog than kicked by a startled horse. Talk to the animal congenially. Literally ask if you may pet them while extending your hand. Say ”good boy” or whatever else seems appropriate. Animals might not be able to speak English, but they know the tones of human voice, and can tell if you’re being sincere and friendly.
Give space to frightened animals. It should be simple to tell if an animal is frightened – they tend to be pretty obvious about it. If you see hunched shoulders, heads pulled down or back, ears flat against the head, or whimpering/whining/crying sounds of any sort, pull away slowly and give the poor beasty some space.
Don’t change your shape if it’s not necessary. If you crouch in front of a dog to pet it, it might feel threatened or startled, and you may get snapped at. If you need to crouch, keep your hand out as you crouch and move slowly. This isn’t generally an issue with larger animals since you can reach them without altering your normal height. If you have to change your shape, do it slowly to avoid scaring the animal.
Don’t get too close to an animal’s face or stare into their eyes. If you have your own pets, it’s likely that you’ve had staring contests with your cat or gotten the proverbial puppy dog eyes at the dinner table. But when you’re meeting and greeting an unfamiliar animal eye contact has a different meaning. Below are some tips for appropriate eye contact for different animals. Regardless of the animal, remember to avoid intense or extended eye contact.
With dogs, give them a nice, friendly look in the eye when you’re initially extending your hand, then keep your eyes in the general area of their face.
With cats, keep the same friendly gaze, but blink slowly and intentionally. Cats find this very non-threatening but staring at a strange cat will upset it.
Rodent-style pets often find the eye contact intimidating; they probably won’t look at your eyes, so don’t try to look into theirs.
With horses and other animals that have wide-set eyes, keep your gaze very soft and don’t stare right into their eyes. As prey animals, direct eye-contact makes them feel hunted
Don’t move quickly. Remember, fast movements will often startle and or upset an animal. You don’t want them to feel like prey – or decide that YOU are.
Don’t speak loudly. Just like with moving too fast, speaking too loud can upset animals as well. If you’re loud, animals may find you threatening and try to attack you or run away..
Don’t smile with your teeth. Animals find this upsetting as well. Think about it; if something is likely to eat you, its teeth showing are a good indicator.
Don’t grab the animal. Smaller animals, like dogs, cats and rodents, typically won’t appreciate being grabbed. They will often bite. If they want to be held, they’ll come to you. Just remember to move slow and you’ll be fine. Large animals might not mind being grabbed, or they might respond aggressively by kicking you.,.
Don’t run away! If for some reason you start to feel really threatened by an animal, don’t run from them. They may see you as prey or think you are trying to play with them and chase after you..
One last very important note: If you’re using any or all of these strategies on an animal without an owner present, be extremely cautious. Sometimes it’s necessary to interact with a stray, feral, or injured animal, but avoid it if at all possible. Animals without their owners nearby are more likely to feel threatened, and animals without owners entirely are more likely to be dangerous. When in doubt, get inside and call Animal Control.