Recently, I was walking Ira down the street, which is normally very quiet and almost never has traffic or people walking. There happened to be a woman coming towards us down the middle of the road.
I moved off to the side of the road, somewhat away from her to give her space in case she didn’t want to interact.
Instead, she called out “will he bite?” Obviously I said “no, but he is a little leery of new people and needs to be approached slowly”.
Of course that didn’t happen. The woman made a bee line for Ira, with hand outstretched. He was hesitant and wouldn’t go to her at first but bounced around her for a minute or so to see if she was OK.
She then bent over and started talking to him in a high pitched voice. This didn’t work either.
At this point it is almost too late to start to instruct the person who wants to interact with your dog because the situation has already been initiated. I just stood there and waited until Ira came to her on his own, but she was actively trying to get his attention.
This is where I knew that this issue had to be addressed on this blog.
There is a belief in our society that all dogs should be friendly and happy to greet anyone they see – dog or human. This idea needs to be dispelled, as it is completely incorrect and impossible to achieve.
Why Is This?
Firstly, not all dogs want to interact with people. It is the same with humans. Do you want to greet everyone you meet and not only that be friends with each person? Clearly, no. To expect this for all dogs is completely unreasonable.
Secondly, it makes it more difficult for a handler to train a dog when people are continually trying to interact with him. Continuous attention from strangers takes your attention away from your own dog and gives your dog the impression that all other people are something fun (or scary) to interact with.
If you don’t know a dog and are continuously looking to interact with dogs you don’t know, you might need to start working on changing your own default behaviour.
The Default Behaviour For Humans Around Dogs
When you see a dog that you don’t know, your default behaviour should be to IGNORE the dog. Even if you are a dog lover, you should not look at or try to get the attention of another person’s dog. If you stop to talk to that person, and the dog comes to you, then the dog has given his permission to interact with him.
And For Dogs…
The default behaviour in public for a dog should be to ignore other dogs and people. The only time interaction should really occur is if the dog is specifically being trained to interact with humans such as in a therapy dog situation or if a dog is released to do what he wants in a safe area.
Why Shouldn’t All Dogs Interact With All Humans?
In our society, a dog who isn’t gregarious or extremely friendly is often called aggressive or not appropriate for walking in public. The expectation is that every dog who is out in public is supposed to want to be petted by strangers and enjoy it.
Those dogs who DO enjoy human contact from strangers develop an expectation to get pets or treats, so an emotional attachment is created with strangers. This is what I want to avoid. I don’t want Ira to be afraid of people but I don’t want him to be overly focused on them because he thinks he might get attention or food.
When people approach a dog who is minding his own business, they are effectively creating a dog who expects people to give him pats and treats. For dogs who feel more social pressures – like those who warm up slowly – this can be an negative experience.
It is also extremely important to teach children to leave dogs alone. This teaches humans early to not “bother” other people’s dog and helps prevent dog bites. Children learn to respect other people’s wishes this way as well since some people would prefer NOT to have their dog interact with people all the time.
The woman who approached us on the road also said something that was extremely telling about dogs and how they are seen in today’s society. She said “in my day, dogs ran around loose”.
At that time, dogs were less likely to bite people simply because they were left alone. As well, they were able to go almost anywhere without getting hit by cars or attack or be attacked by other dogs. “Back then” most dogs were exposed to all kinds of things and most children were taught to “let sleeping dogs lie’ for a reason.
Today, the majority of dogs are not taken out into public as much and don’t get the exposure to all the things that they may need to get. People are often excited to see a dog and pay excess attention to him when he is out in public.
The most important thing to remember is to not feel bad for insisting that people, known or unknown to your dog, interact appropriately with him. It is in his best behavioural interest.
Now, in my case, I let Ira warm up to people on his own time – which actually doesn’t take very long. I simply instruct visitors to wait until he doesn’t back away, and licks their hands as a sign of desire to interact more. On the street, I will feel more comfortable now to say no to those who wish to pet him. I will just simply call out to them saying “he’s in training” or turn and walk the other way if I have to.