Well, I had this great post written about how you should go about greeting dogs you are unfamiliar with …but my good friend Casey Lomonaco KPA wrote a lovely post about that topic today. So, go check out her Behavior and Training blog about how to greet an unfamiliar dog (and you should subscribe because she is absolutely brilliant with her training information). Since she wrote pretty much the exact same post I wrote, I figured that I’d write something tangential in nature.
After some thought, I came to the idea of how to advocate for our own dogs by being assertive with people who just “LOVE DOGS!” or who have dogs who “LOVE” other dogs.
“She’s scared of other dogs,” “She’s not really friendly with other dogs,” “She doesn’t like other dogs,” “She is selective about who she likes,” “She’s uncomfortable with other dogs,” “She will react if you don’t get your dog out of her face!!!!!!”
All of these are things I’ve said to people who either ask or don’t ask about letting their dog greet Shayne. I have to be her advocate because if I don’t, who will? It is absolutely acceptable for you to either say “No” when people ask to pet your dog or to give them instructions upon doing so.
It has been my job for the last 4 years to do my best to keep Shayne under threshold when out and about, first with regards to people and then second with regards to other dogs. There is absolutely no way I could have accomplished this as well as I have without stepping on a few toes and probably offending some folk along the way (though by and large people have been really quite understanding).
I wanted to provide you some of the ways (and the language I have used) to keep people from approaching my dogs. Honestly, I’ve heard some horror stories about people getting up in arms when told “no” and I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky or I use different language but I’ve never had anyone get overly upset.
If a child/adult asked to pet Shayne these are some of the responses I used:
“Y’know I really liked the way you asked (if a child asked I’d use this phrase a lot), but she is actually really shy so you can’t pet her but she’ll do a trick for you!”
“I’m sorry but she’s afraid of people, but thank you for asking me!”
“Little kids/people make her nervous, so you can’t pet her but if you take a step back and wave to her she’ll wave back and you can toss her a treat”
“I’m actually training her to NOT seek out the attention of strangers so she won’t be a nuisance in the city, so she can’t be pet right now, but thanks for asking.”
“Actually she’s scared of people so it’s better if you didn’t try to pet her but if you put your flat hand out she may touch it with her nose” (only did this as she got better with people, I’d cue a hand target)
If a child rushed us and tried to pet Shayne I would always interrupt the behavior and step in front of Shayne and say something like (depending on age)…
“Red light (said in a happy but strong tone, like playing the game red light/green light)! It’s really not safe to rush up to a dog you don’t know. It can scare them and they may decide to bark at you or even bite. She’s afraid of people, but you can toss her some treats if you’d like.”
“Please don’t pet her, she’s very shy. You really need to ask before you pet a dog you don’t know. Some dogs are afraid of people and some don’t like young kids. If you want to pet a dog the safe thing to do is to ask before trying to pet the dog.”
“Stop… she’s scared of kids, please don’t pet her. Next time you want to pet, make sure you ask first. Some dogs, like her are scared and don’t want to be pet. Would you like to see some of her tricks or toss her some treats instead?”
If we are approached by a dog on or off leash and the owner asks if they can approach I will say something like..
“She’s actually not very comfortable with dogs so, thanks for asking, but no.”
“No, she’s not really good with other dogs.”
“Thanks for asking, but she’s nervous around other dogs and can be reactive.”
If it’s someone I see regularly, I may suggest we walk together instead of actually letting the dogs greet nose to nose.
If approached by an off-leash dog while in an on-leash area I give some strong responses…
“My dog isn’t friendly! Please get your dog!”
“Can you please call your dog, mine isn’t friendly!”
(if they say that their dog is just friendly or something like that…) “Your dog may be friendly but my dog is not! Call your dog!”
As Shayne got better with people/kids I began giving them instructions on how to greet her if they asked… if they didn’t ask they couldn’t pet…
“Thanks for asking, she’s a little nervous, but if you turn sideways and put your flat hand out she’ll come and touch it and you can scratch her chin/chest”
“Thanks for asking. She doesn’t like her head pet, but she LOVES to have the white part of her chest pet.”
“Yep, you can pet her but let her come to you because she’s a little shy–if you turn sideways and don’t give her direct eye contact, she’ll probably approach you nicely. If she comes close start petting her chest and then you can pet her back/sides.”
“You guys can pet her but one kid at a time and be sure to let her come to you. If she walks away, don’t chase her, she’s saying she needs a break.”
With all of this, if someone didn’t listen to my words or ignored my instructions (adults, with kids I was happy to remind them and talk them through the process), I was totally content to step in and call Shayne away. My responsibility is to keeping Shayne safe and keeping her comfortable–if people cannot follow directions, they cannot pet her. One of my favorite (and kids’ favorite) methods to avoid people petting Shayne, was to show off her tricks, allow people to toss her treats, or to let kids throw tennis balls for her (this was a major favorite for the kids and Shayne).
So go read Casey’s blog about how to greet unfamiliar dogs and use those tips as the basis for giving people instructions on how to politely greet your dog. You have all the right in the world to protect your dog and keep them feeling safe by not letting people physically interact if you or your dog don’t want the interaction. If your dog is fearful, shy, or not friendly, you have the responsibility to be their advocate and tell people no or give them instructions about petting or interacting with your pup .