Do you want to pet "all" the dogs? I do! Do you believe that all nice dogs love to be petted and approached if you approach them the right way? Have you always loved dogs and believe that all good dogs love you?
I confess. This was me until a couple of years ago. If you have read my previous blogs, you know that I have a young dog that I rescued 10/2015 that is currently leash-reactive. My hope is that she will not always be reactive on leash. I have been doing my very best to tackle every behavioral issue that crops up with my Betty. I have learned a lot since I brought her home. We have made some definite progress too. We have handled digging and nuisance barking. I train her daily. Lately, we have gotten to the point that we can train pretty close in proximity to distractions. I use the engaged/disengage game to desensitize her to stimulating distractions and she is getting to the point where she can watch a bicyclist ride by and she will look at me instead of lunging or barking at the bike. She does well at the park when we go to practice around kids too. I have grandchildren that are quite happy to go to the park so Betty can train. They are very helpful. I have been working very hard to help her learn how to be calm. What does this have to do with petting dogs?
The short answer: everything...
Many dogs are reactive, timid, or shy around new people. I love dogs and I do want to pet them all. They don't all want me to pet them though. Some, like my Betty, get way to excited by the prospect of a new person. She is what the trainers call a "social butterfly". She is also beautiful and fluffy. She looks very happy and sweet - and she is. More people want to meet Betty because she is especially pretty. But she is more than just a pretty face. She gets frustrated when someone new is petting her and they stop. She reacts by barking and lunging - which looks aggressive. One minute you are petting her and she is loving it. The next (when you pull away), she is barking like a crazy thing. It isn't attractive at all. This started a few months ago. When I am prepared to practice greetings, I have treats handy. I keep the greetings very short. And, she is treated when the petting stops and she remains calm. We just started this because this problem just started... When we are not prepared (like the first potty break of the morning before I have had my coffee and I am stumbling around with my eyes barely open), it is easier to just have our walk and not greet people. She is in training so she is not proofed for greeting everybody all the time. She is also learning that she doesn't get to greet everyone that she sees. Sometimes I am in a hurry and I have somewhere to go. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Our trainer told us to practice polite non-greetings and then we will graduate to polite greetings. When I am prepared and mindful, this dog does everything right. When I am not paying attention, have my hands full, or am in a hurry, that is when she misbehaves. I know that I can do better. With more training and time, I know she can do better too.
Some dogs are very fearful of new people. Some have been horribly abused and may never want strangers walking up to them and petting them. It isn't you. It is them. For others, it is just their personality. You can train them to accept greetings politely - but they may never really love it. Just like some people are more introverted than others, dogs do have varying degrees of sociability. Service dogs need to work for their owners and should never be bothered or touched by strangers.
Okay, but what do you do if you still want to pet the dogs?
The owners usually know their dog's temperament and training level. If you ask to pet someone's dog AND THEY SAY YES (this is also a prerequisite), then pet the dog. Don't pet them too long. Don't get in their faces or be rough. You are a total stranger to this animal. Animals need personal space to feel comfortable just like we do. Never. Never. Never just walk up to someone and start petting their dog. A perfectly calm dog can get freaked out in a matter of seconds if a stranger walks up to them and starts handling them. It seems like common sense to me now - but I have been the person that wanted to pet pretty dogs that I did not know.
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
― Maya Angelou
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