The idiomatic phrase “over the top” or “going over the top” describes someone making an effort that is excessive or more than is required to accomplish a task. Sometimes, the phrase is used to describe an action judged to be foolish or dangerous.

What you may not know is that “going over the top” also refers to the action of petting a dog by reaching over him to the top of his head. Needlessly dangerous would be the part of the above definition that best applies to petting a dog on his head, which goes for patting him on his head as well. To a dog, this is considered to be threatening and will entice a dog to open his mouth as your hand passes over his face. Many children, in particular, are bitten by strange dogs when executing this intimidating “over-the-top” petting.

There are two very important facts to remember when a child, or an adult for that matter, encounters a strange dog. 

  1. No matter how friendly, cute, small, and non-threatening a dog may appear to be, even if it is wagging its tail, the pet parent must give permission to approach it. This includes dogs that are on a leash.

2. The proper way to pet any dog is to let the dog sniff your hand, with your fingers curled rather than extended, should the dog bite. If the dog appears accepting of your friendly gesture, then pet the dog gently and calmly with your palm up under the dog’s chin.

A good sign to look for is if the dog appears well-trained and is sitting without being restrained, as instructed by the pet parent.

Children should be taught to ask their parents, for permission to ask the pet parent, for permission to pet a strange dog.

Free photos of Golden retrieverIt is important to remember that not all dogs like to be touched by strangers. Not all dogs like children. Not all dogs are comfortable in confined areas or unfamiliar places, especially those that are noisy or have loud distractions. Older dogs that are blind or physically challenged by arthritis or other medical issues may not appreciate being approached or touched, especially by strangers. Rescue dogs may have suffered abuse at some time in their life and should not be approached without permission by the pet parent.

Approximately 5 MILLION people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States.

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