While walking great danes in the city I have been witness to a bewildering array of stupid moves by people concerning my dogs. The following info should help out.

  • Dogs become more protective of their owners at night. Ex. During the day anyone can approach my dogs safely with or without my supervision, but when it is dark out some people will cause them to become extremely protective of me and begin with serious warning growls.
  • Many dogs become more defensive/protective when on leash for the same reasons MissCreant noted about dogs being tied up outside. Theres not much you can do about it but it is a good thing to be aware of.
  • If a dog growls at you do not assume that your previous "dogs like me" experiences will allow you to disregard the growls and approach the dog. My advice is to NOT put your hand out, step back, and do not make eye contact with the dog. If, for some reason you really want to pet the dog look to it's handler for guidance.
  • If you are unfamiliar with dog body language pay special attention to the tail as it is the easiest to read. the bigger the wag the safer it usually is. If the tail is not wagging you should be more careful.
  • Never assume a dog knows you are approaching unless it has made some sign (watching you, turning to face you, etc. ) to that effect. They do have better senses than we do but they may be focusing on something or someone else at the time and not notice you.
  • When jogging past a dog be sure to give it plenty of space. I have seen too many people come running directly at my dogs, attempting to pass us with under a foot of space. Running directly at a dog isn't a brilliant idea in the first place but cant really be helped in the city. When you near the dog slow down and be sure to avert your eyes and give it plenty of space. When passing a dog from behind do not assume that the dog knows you are approaching, especially at night. Give the dog a wide birth as you pass and, again, slow down.

    When running with a dog yourself it is especially important to not run directly towards an unfamiliar dog. Dogs tend to grant humans some slack in the bad dog ettiquette department but not other dogs. Your dog may be well trained enough to heel perfectly and completely ignore the other dog. This does not mean that the dog you approach is that well trained. It is in your best interest to slow to a walk and give the other dog a wider birth than necessary for just you.

    I have had at least three people make the mistake of running past my dogs, from behind, with no space, at night. The result was a surprised 140lb dog lunging in their direction and growling as they passed within inches of him. I know my dog well enough that he would not have bitten them even with out my restraint but it didn't stop him from scaring the crap out of the joggers. He could very easily have been one of the thousands of more agressive dogs out there. This isn't really a training issue so much as it is a "Holy Shit what the fuck is that?!?!" issue for the dog. Surprising a potentially dangerous animal (and all dogs are) is just not a good idea.
  • Never pet a dog you are not intimately familiar with without first getting its attention. I have seen a number of dogs in situations with lots of people, like dinner parties, where, confused and distracted by so much action a friend of the dog will come by and pet the dog from behind, startling the dog and causing it to snap. Usually this is just a warning snap and not a bite but, you never know.
  • MissCreant has already stated this but it can not be restated enough. Never pet a strange dog.
  • Never assume that someone else's dog is friendly. I have passed many people and had them suddenly turn and stick their hands out to pet, or be sniffed by, my dogs without first asking me if it was either ok with me, or safe. I have been tempted to bit the person myself for the huge risk they just took and the stupidity that must have been required to take it. There are a number of dogs out there that will snap or bite in that situation.
  • Always ask a dogs handler permission to pet their animal. In addition to helping keep all your digits attached to your hand, it is polite, and it is respectful. Many dog owners consider their pets like children. To them, petting their dog unannounced is equivalent to walking up and touching a strangers child without permission. If you are interested in learning about the specific dog you will find the owners much more helpful and conversive when you ask first.
  • In general, the larger the dog, the calmer the personality. You have a higher risk of being bitten by the small yappy breeds than you do by the larger, more docile breeds. IMHO the higher risk with small breeds is due both to the genetics of the breed and some common bad practices by the owners of small breeds.