I’m not the kind of person who sees a dog on the street, at the park or at the local pet store that approaches a dog without consulting the handler first. To some, I may even seem like I’m ignoring them and their dog, but to others, they are thankful that what I’m actually doing is RESPECTING the dog and it’s space!
As tempting as it for people to say hello, give a pat, a hug, or get into that dogs face because they are just so darn cute, believe it or not, not all dogs are interested in interaction. Some are even fearful of strangers, both human and animal. These dogs are not bad dogs and their owners are not bad owners. For whatever reason, these dogs just need their space, and when given it, they perform as well as any other dog.
Maybe these dogs have had a bad experience, maybe they were born and raised in a puppy mill and never had social interaction, maybe they are ill or recovering from a health issue, maybe they are older, don’t see or hear well. For dogs like this to be suddenly approached by another dog or human they may become startled or fearful, causing them in return to react. They may bark, growl, raise their hackles or even lunge. These dogs are not mean, they are protecting themselves and sometimes their handler the only way their instinct tells them.
What can we do when approaching a dog?
- NO TOUCH. Let the dog come to us on their own time. Don’t stand face forward, stand with your side or back towards them – this shows you are non-confrontational.
- NO EYE CONTACT. Again, shows that you are not trying to confront or challenge the dog.
- NO TALK. Your voice can excite or agitate a dog.
Once the dog knows you are not a threat and they feel comfortable enough with you, they will approach. It could be something as simple as them gently and cautiously coming to your side and sniffing your hand. Even at this point I still remain quiet and calm, no sudden moves.
THINK OF IT THIS WAY:
You’re out for a walk on the street, a complete stranger comes up to you, stands in your space, starts waving their hands around, touching you, talking excitedly/loudly, in a language you don’t understand. What would your reaction be? In my my opinion, as silly as it seems, it’s the same thing the dog is experiencing.
Learning How To Approach A Dog Is As Important To Us As It Is To Them
This is a topic that is close to my heart. I previously owned a fearful dog. People who have not experienced such a dog can have a hard time understanding what it is like and that certain dogs needs their space. I have encountered owners out for a walk with their own dog and tried to inform them that my dog needs space and please don’t touch or pay any attention to him, they don’t always get it. It is also a misconception that just because their dog is ‘friendly’, that it is ok and their dog can “come say hi to your dog”, it doesn’t work. Your friendly, fun loving dog would actually scare the daylights out of my dog, and in return he would react and put him and I back to square one of his training as well as his confidence level.