I have dogs, and although I personally think they are sweet and nice and well behaved, I can't guarantee how they will act or any other dog will act when approached.
I know their signals: Alarmed, Scared, Interested, Playful and on guard.
But YOU don't know their signals. Therefore why would you let your dog approach my dog without asking me first.
I know it is cute to see dogs interact and get playful with each other. Smelling each other's bums and private parts, bending down in a playful pose, licking each other....
But that doesn't always happen with all dogs. Just because my dog looks nice, you have NO WAY of knowing whether he is just calm because he is calculating how close he has to be to the other dog in order to rip the other dogs ear off. OR if he is just calm because he doesn't want to be bothered by a nosy, space intruding, inappropriately playful dog. YOU JUST DON'T KNOW!!
I mean I have to keep my dogs in separate cages because they will fight over dumb stuff when trapped together. But when they are roaming the yard or house together, they are best buds.
I remember going to a dog park, where it is socially acceptable to let your dog approach another dog without asking.
There was this huge great dane mix. (He was HUGE!!) that kept trying to play with my little yorkie. He wasn't being aggressive, but he kept barking at Ziggy and following him around the park because he apparently wanted to play.
Suddenly, my collie charlie got in between the two and started aggressively growling at the great dane which was basically two times his size.
It surprised me and scared me and made me proud at the same time.
It surprised me because this was totally out of character for Charlie who is usually extremely calm and collected.
It scared me because I began panicking about what I would do if Charlie tried to fight that massive dog. There was no way I'd be able to break that up without getting hurt.
But it also made me proud that Charlie was standing up for and protecting his little yorkie "brother".
I immediately called his name and took him and Ziggy to a corner of the park that was less crowded.
Yet for some reason the owner (and thus the great dane) followed us. WHY?? The owner thought it was funny and explained that his dog "just wanted to play."
Even thought I as a sensible human being understood that, I also, as a sensible human being, understood neither Ziggy nor Charlie were in the mood for that type of play with that type of dog.
Yet, the owner persisted until I finally just had to leave the park.
Now this wasn't a dog yard where to dogs are cooped up and expected to all get along. This was a dog PARK: it was at least 1 mile long and 1/2 mile wide complete with lake, grassy hills, a little forest and all those good things that people wish a dog park was made up of.
That said, the owner did NOT have to follow us, and our dogs did NOT have to interact. That was what was soo annoying.
He kept trying to push his huge dog (with his huge mouth and loud bark) on my dogs, as though he were trying to prove something. And he did this all without asking ME whether it was a good idea, especially after Charlie growled and all but told him in plain english "We don't want to play with your loud mouth dog. He scares Ziggy".
That said, I know it was a dog park. But this happens often when I walk my dogs. Other dog owners see my dogs, smile widely and loosen their leash just as I am tightening mine.
We walk past each other and they stop and allow their dogs to casually wander over to mine, without even asking what I think.
If I had a rottweiler (which I've had before) or a pit bull I'm sure the reaction would not be the same, no matter how nice or playful those dogs may be.
But because I have a collie and a yorkie, they feel absolutely fine and safe to approach.
What they don't understand is that dogs are unpredictable. They don't have the words to say "Mom, that dog makes me mad, or scares me, or annoys me." All they have is a gut reaction and can often be really sneaky about it. So it is important to be careful and approach any unknown dog with caution.
So please, to all those dog owners out there. I'm begging you.
Just ask before you approach. It's the reasonable, kind and safe thing to do.