I really think it depends on a few factors, but for the most part, I don’t think it’s a big deal to pet someone dog without permission. I mean, if you’re in a public place, and you see what is clearly a harmless dog being pet by many other people, then it shouldn’t be a big deal to presume it’s okay for you to pet the dog as well. Of course, it’s always a good idea to ask the owner first for permission, but when you bring your pet into a public place, particularly a crowded one, don’t act surprised by the behavior of others.
Let me give you an example of what I’m referring to. Recently, I was out to lunch at “The Grove,” the well-known mall here in Los Angeles, which has an outdoor concourse/walking area. Many of the restaurants have outdoor seating. These people I was eating with had two dogs with them, and since the dogs weren’t allowed in seating areas, they had to be tied by the leashes on the other side of the metal barricade. I forget what kinda dogs they were, but they were medium-sized, and both very cute.
Many people passing by interrupted our meal to pet the dogs, or just to comment on them. Let me remind you that this was Sunday afternoon, and The Grove was packed, with foot traffic everywhere – foot traffic including children. Now, one of the dogs doesn’t really like being touched by strangers, so the owner had to constantly yell out to people not to touch her dog if they came remotely close to it. Hmmmm, why bring the dog to The Grove in the first place then? I don’t know.
Then she attempted to make a terrible argument that “you wouldn’t touch someone else’s baby without permission.” A HUMAN BABY IS NOT THE SAME THING AS A DOG. You don’t go around petting strangers’ babies.
Anyway, throughout the course of our lunch, I bet over 600 people passed by our table —- maybe five of them tried to pet the dog without asking for permission. That doesn’t sound so bad to me.
To sum this up, in an ideal world in which we’re all courteous, one should ask permission before petting someone else’s dog — but if you don’t do so, that doesn’t make you a complete fool.
However, what might make you a fool is bringing a dog that hates strangers into a crowded public area with lots and lots of children around.