How to Look at a Dog in Public

Looking at someone else’s dog in public can be fun for you, and possibly even the dog’s owner. (And heck, maybe even the dog!) While it sounds so simple, there is undoubtedly an etiquette that must be followed when gazing at a pooch that does not belong to you.

Dogs are everywhere in public. Some are running free in an off-leash dog park, some are tied to a post outside a business, and some are walking on a leash with their owners down the sidewalk. To catch a glimpse of a dog takes no effort and requires no prior thought. In fact, you probably inadvertently saw the dog to begin with.

But when you decide that you’re no longer interested in just glancing at the animal and instead want to look at it for an extended period of time (more than 5 seconds), you will want to create an environment that is suitable for everyone and doesn’t make you look creepy.

Looking at dogs is the rule of SLAX. Smile. Laugh. Avoid eye contact with the owner. Examine your surroundings.

First and foremost, always smile. If you aren’t naturally smiling already, fake it. If and when the dog’s owner catches you looking, you want there to be an inviting atmosphere that encourages conversation. Secondly, laugh… but not too hard. A lighthearted chuckle coupled with the smile says to everyone that you find the dog inviting and playful. Of course, avoid eye contact with the owner… at least until they notice you looking. You want this to be about the dog, not them. And finally examine your surroundings. By that, we mean make sure you aren’t so lost in looking at dogs that a pick-pocketer is sneaking up on you, or you’re blocking a bike path.

Do you hope to engage in conversation with the dog’s owner and ask questions? Slowly approach the owner so as not to frighten the dog, and very politely say something like “oh my, she is just adorable!” You might want to follow that up with a “it is she, right?” And be ready to apologize if you guessed wrong! An uncomfortable dog owner will probably say something like “Yep, she’s a good girl, aren’t you Daffodil? Yes you are!” and then aggressively scratch the dog’s fur. Just take this opportunity to say a pleasant “thanks” and leave.

There is one caveat to the rule of SLAX. If you can’t be seen, the rules don’t apply. Perhaps you are looking at the dog from a bus window and the owner has no way of seeing you. Just stare to your heart’s content, in that case!

Looking at a dog is a fun activity. It lets your mind escape for a moment and think about the carefree life the mutt is living. Dogs aren’t thinking about how some mindless marketing campaign is performing, or when the next car payment is due. Its only concern is where it’s going to defecate, and if there are any gophers or squirrels nearby to kill.

So go ahead, take a look!

My Hot Take:
I was recently sitting in a coffee shop looking at a dog wearing a festive vest of some sort. It seemed happy. Since I was inside the shop, the owner would have a difficult time seeing me staring at it, so the rule of SLAX didn’t really apply.

Looking at dogs can be fun and educational, but don’t stare too long.


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