Etiqutte is often a tricky subject, because it is often used to preserve outdated or overly formal customs. Manners also vary from place to place, and holding to an overly rigid system of manners is often bad manners itself. And yet, all forms of etiquette have a guiding principle behind them. Usually this is expressed as "etiquette is a way to make other people feel comfortable". When it comes to the etiquette of owning or handling a dog, the guiding principle for me is "It is my job to make the dog adapt to the world, and not the world's job to adapt itself to the dog".
I have encountered rude dog owners before, some thoughtlessly so, some aggressively so. On a few occasions, I have questioned both types about it, and their justification for their dog's misbehavior was that I was somehow acting the wrong way. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn't, but its not my job, in a public place to change how I act to accomodate someone's dog's fragile emotional state. Specifically, it is not my job to:
- Act unfrightened so as not to make your dog nervous. If your dog really can "smell fear" and responds by acting predatory, it is not my job to somehow change my emotions. It is your job to train your dog to not respond to it, or to keep your dog from public places.
- Know when your dog is joking or not. It is true that dogs can be rambunctious or may act more aggressive than they are. Its not my job, as someone walking in a park, to do a spot psychoanalysis of a growling dog and know that your lovable, harmless, 125 pound rottweiler is a total sweetheart who wouldn't hurt a fly.
- Monitor children to make sure they are not harassing an animal. Well, of course it is always a duty to monitor children for many purposes, but if a child's behavior causes a dog to respond aggressively, it means that dog shouldn't be around the child. I have seen a dog maul a toddler when that toddler pulled on the dogs ears. Of course the child's parents should have been there, but it shouldn't even be a question because that dog shouldn't have been in public.
- Tune out a dog's barking, or step around their feces. The first is especially an issue for those living around a dog who is barking constantly, because unlike the other scenarios, this can quickly become an omnipresent part of life.
There are of course some reasonable requests that can be placed upon those interacting with a dog. There is a personal space around a dog that should be respected as to not upset the dog. Sudden loud, aggressive moves close to a dog should be avoided. But in general, the first responsibility falls on those handling the dog, not on those who encounter the dog.