I just got back from walking my dumb-as-a-post golden retriever (who will from this point forward be known as Doofus), cheered by a conversation I overheard.
As we walked down the sidewalk, a family with two small children approached. As we got closer, I heard the mother tell her kids, in a patient, educational sort of tone, that "not all dogs are friendly." Now, Doofus is one of the friendliest dogs around (almost to a fault) and has a very gentle temperment, as do most golden retrievers (although, sadly, due to some irresponsible breeders tainting the gene pool, a bad-tempered golden does occur more often than it use to). But I cringe everytime we're out in public and someone practically lunges at him, hand extended. How in the hell does that person know that my dog is friendly? How do they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he doesn't bite? The answer: they don't. They assume...and when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me. (Don't get me started on people who give Doofus FOOD without asking first!)
This sort of grabby behavior on the part of strangers happens more often than you might think. With both children and adults. Which is why I was thrilled to hear this mother's little sidewalk teaching moment. And why I am kicking myself right now for not taking a similar moment to stop and thank her. Oh, well. At least, when someone ASKS if they can pet Doofus, I never fail to say "Yes, you can, and thank you for asking first...I wish more people did!" (Along a similar line, I always thank cashiers when the actually ask to see my photo I.D., just like it tells them to in big black letters on the back of my credit card.)
So please, gentle reader, if you have ever reached out to a strange dog without first asking the dog's person, think about what you are doing. Even if a dog is generally friendly, it may be caught off guard by you, a stranger, and lash out. And, perhaps more importantly, remember to teach your children well.