DEAR MISS MANNERS: I used to be a dog walker, and I really like dogs. When we are out for a hike and I see someone approaching with a dog, I have the urge to say hi to the animal.
Is this impolite? I guess the normal thing is to address the person and say "Cute dog" -- but that's really not what I feel like doing. What about saying hi to both the person and the dog?
I guess I should say hi to the person first, but the dog is usually in front. Alternatively, is it weird if I tell my friend, "What a cute dog!" within hearing of the owner? I'm just kind of shy and don't want to interrupt people when they're exercising.
GENTLE READER: "Cute dog!" said -- or shouted -- to the owner in passing is perfectly fine, as long as there is no expectation that the interaction go further.
In that case, Italians, adept in the art of combining the pragmatic with the sentimental, have a phrase that we would do well to adopt: "E buono?" or "Is he good?"
Miss Manners supposes that Americans will take issue with questioning a dog's morality, but it is meant to protect the prospective petter from a precarious temperament. And not necessarily that of the dog.