Question… Do you let random strangers come up to you or your child, get into your personal space and touch you, your child? No, of course you don’t. Why? Because you don’t know them, because it would be uncomfortable, because it would make you feel nervous, anxious or even scared. Because it’s just plain weird.
Well, it’s no different for your dog. Having someone they don’t know approach them and come into their personal space, make direct eye contact, touch them, talk to them etc… makes most dogs uncomfortable. You just don’t realize it because you don’t recognize subtle cues your dog exhibits to show their discomfort. Cues such as turning their head away, looking away, yawning, exposing their belly or licking their lips are just a few of the cues they display. Furthermore, just because a dog is wagging its tail doesn’t mean it’s happy. Dogs wag their tails for many reasons, even right before they attack.
With repeated exposure to strangers your dog can become reactive (growling, barking, lunging, biting etc). You may ask, “But what about the dog that is excited, looks happy and pulls towards people?” That dog can become reactive out of overarousal, excitement and frustration. Advocating for your dog (protecting your dog’s personal space), strengthens the bond of trust and helps your dog feel safe and secure. When around strangers, whether in your home or out in public, it’s as simple as not allowing people to interact with your dog.
Lastly, it may seem obvious but your dog doesn’t speak English so they don’t know when you are verbally advocating for them. To show them you are it’s as simple as stepping in front of them or moving them behind you or moving them away from the approaching person or dog as you are verbally advocating for them. This way they know that you are speaking up for them, and are less likely to become reactive, knowing that you have everything under control.
If you feel awkward saying no, here are some polite ways you can respond when someone asks,
“CAN I PET YOUR DOG?”
“No, he’s in training, but thank you!”
“No thanks, he isn’t friendly.”
“No, my dog wouldn’t be comfortable with that.”
“No, not today, but thank you!”
Remember, you wouldn’t let strangers approach your child, let alone touch them! Speak up and advocate/protect your dog from entitled, albeit well meaning strangers. It may save your dog from going down the road to reactivity.
If you have a reactive dog, reach out to us, we can help you and your dog live a happier, calmer, fun and peaceful life together. Give us a call at 404-422-9832, we look forward to serving you!
Terie Hansen is Owner of Good Dog! Coaching & Pet Care. Visit www.gooddogcoaching.com for more information.