Tuesday, August 9, 2011

May I Pet Your Dog?

American Dog Magazine

By Doug and Elizabeth Simpson
Owners of Tenderfoot Training

We are asking all people who encounter someone else's dog to please be courteous enough to ask permission to pet someone else's dog, and be respectful of what people ask of you. Unfortunately, some folks just don't listen and always want to counter with "It's fine, animals like me" or "I have a way with dogs, its okay." It doesn't matter that dogs love you and you have never been bitten before, there's always a first time for everything. We know it is exciting to meet a new dog, especially if you are a dog lover. Unfortunately, most people feel driven to approach with high energy and have to touch the dog immediately. This can cause many adverse reactions from an unbalanced dog.

You don't know the 'dognality' of this four-legged standing in front of you. Is this a balanced and nice dog? Does he seem likely to jump up? Is he nervous and likely to bite? Is he mouthy or aggressive? Ask the guardian about his dog before you approach a new dog and please respect their wishes. When greeting a new dog there is a correct way to approach - see the American Dog Magazine's, fall of '08, article Minding Your Canine Manners by Tenderfoot Training for more details.

The way you approach a dog matters; your energy, getting closer (distance), facing the dog, bending over towards the dog, and eye contact can be forms of pressure which feeds into the dog in a good or bad way.

Think about it, if a stranger came rushing at you, hugged you and stroked your hair, then kept starring into your eyes as he spoke gibberish to you, you would find that very creepy, and depending on your personality you might get scared, or you might try to push that person off of you. Well, that's just what a dog is doing when he stiffens, growls, or worst yet - snaps at you.
The responsibility lies with both parties when encountering each other, so to the dog owner we ask, please have the confidence to ask someone not to approach your dog, or teach them how to approach your dog. Most of all, teach your dog to feel comfortable in the world.

Teach your friends, old and new, how to greet your dog. If someone asks to pet your dog, you could answer by saying, "Thank you so much for asking, but he is too nervous right now and I am working on his training." You could even ask them to walk by a few times and toss a treat towards the dog so they are helping to socialize the dog but not actually approaching him. That way it's a win-win - the dog gets a positive experience with a stranger and the person gets to interact with the dog.

Or you could say, "So great that you asked, I would love to have you pet him but I need your help first. He is a bit nervous and I am working on his training, so could you please (whatever helps make your dog more comfortable around strangers)." Then explain to the person that sideways body language is calmer to a dog, have them squat down beside the dog, ask them to avert their eyes until the dog seems interested, and then have them stroke the dog evenly when all seems calm. Set everyone up for success. It is the human's job to ensure that his dog feels safe in the world, and the world is safe with his dog. This is accomplished through cooperation between all people and their dogs working together to stay safe and create harmony.

For more information: Doug and Elizabeth Simpson

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