Advocating For Your Dog
Advocating for Your Dog
Why do we feel an obligation to be nicer to the stranger on the street than we do to our best friend?
When we choose to be caretakers of animals we make a contract with them. That contract says you will not put your dog into an uncomfortable/unnecessary situation. What we mean by that is if we are in public with our dogs and somebody wants to pet or interact with your dog, it is your duty to know your dog well enough, and read your dog’s body language to determine if he is comfortable with the person and wants to be petted. Many people say “all dogs love me”, but that’s really not the case. What it really means is that they intentionally push themselves on dogs they don’t know without regard for how each individual dog feels about them, and so far, they haven’t been bitten.
Why is it that when we are in public with our dogs and someone wants their kid, their dog, or themselves to interact with your dog they often don’t take “No” for an answer. They may even ask to pet your dog, but they do it while they are reaching for your dog and expecting a “yes”. But when you say “no”, they act as if you’re the bad guy. When we allow a stranger to influence our relationship and tempt us to break the contract we’ve made to protect our dog, we are putting that relationship at risk. We are telling our dog that they need to fend for themselves because we are throwing them to the wolves. That may mean your dog will need to growl or snap at someone to tell them to back off. Then that makes your dog look like a bad dog when he isn’t.
The reason we allow this is because we don’t want to appear rude. However, the actual rudeness in this scenario is not you telling the person “no, you may not pet my dog”. The rudeness is them behaving as if it is their right to touch your dog, and then getting angry with you for not letting them. Imagine someone asking to smell your hair. Too personal for a stranger to ask? Yes, of course it is. It’s the same thing for the dog when a stranger insists on petting him.
This isn’t just about people wanting to interact with our dogs, it’s also about other dogs. When someone is with their dog and you are out with your dog they don’t always “have to say hi”. Not all dogs get along with all other dogs, just as all people don’t get along with all other people. Just because dogs are social animals doesn’t mean they are social with everyone. We don’t walk along in a mall shaking hands and hugging every person we pass, yet some people expect all dogs to want to do that.
Here are a couple of examples of nice ways to respond when someone asks to pet your dog (you can change the wording when they want their dog to say hi):
“I’d rather you didn’t as he’s a bit nervous around strangers. Thank you so much for asking though.”
“Thank you for asking but he’s not comfortable in this situation. I can tell you’re a real dog lover though, so can you help me out by tossing this treat on the ground in front of him?”
“He’s a new dog to us so I really don’t know how he’ll respond, so it’s probably best that you not try to pet him right now.”
And here are a few options for those people who won’t take “no” for an answer:
“He has ringworm.” (for kids)
“He has kennel cough.” (for dogs, though the ringworm would work, too)
Here is a great article by Suzanne Clothier on a similar subject.