Do I know you?
Excuse me? Have we met? Do I know you? Funny how many humans are drawn to touch dogs; they walk right up and lay their hands on our dogs. They do it without asking, they have no idea if your dog is friendly, fearful, sick or want to be touched. This was never as clear to me as it is with Luke. When he was a very young puppy he made it well understood that he did not appreciate strangers coming up and touching him. In fact; he quickly turned from a fuzzy faced little fellow into Cujo if someone carelessly walked straight at him. It didn’t take long to realize that he was indeed reactive. A reactive dog is basically a dog that reacts much larger to things than a regular dog. There are many degrees of reactivity; Luke’s is fairly low but because of it he has been my greatest teacher over the years.
Like many reactive dogs he never misses a thing, not a person, dog, object or even ant walking by goes without notice. And he wears his emotions on his sleeve; he is an easy read as I have said before. So when people wanted to come up and see this adorable blonde boy they headed straight for him. Making a short line from them to him and covering ground quickly. Luke immediately saw this and turned on Cujo; and when I say Cujo, I mean Cujo. Not a little growling or bluster, a full on teeth show, puffed up, on his toes growling and barking show. Of course this pretty much stopped people in their tracks, but they were usually pretty close by the time it started.
This was long ago; he has come a long way from his puppy days of freaking out. I have taught him to be more calm and of course watch how people approach. He adores people, it was never the people he had an issue with, it was their approach. Many dogs simply need time, space and a non threatening approach. Anyone who knows Luke now would never believe that he use to be related to Cujo. ;)
I started watching for cues; how far could people get without Luke feeling threatened? The answer was pretty close and if they changed their approach, they might just be able to come up and pet him with no big scary display. Most displays that are the result of an unwanted approach are totally avoidable. Many are caused strictly by the dog being on a leash and not having access to exit, this is huge. Most dogs do not want a stranger mauling them; as cute as they may be. Of course there are the dogs who do want anyone and everyone to kiss and hug and maul them, typically the Goldens. But they are few and far between.
Humans should use a general canine approach protocol, approach with casual, confidence and caution. That is to say; don’t approach by creepily walking up to a dog all hesitant like. You are sure to get a display if you are sneaking.
Don’t look a dog in the eyes; that is very threatening and unnerving to a dog.
Don’t walk straight up to a dog head on; again this behavior is considered threatening.
Don’t lean over a dog, this is a dominant behavior.
Do not rush at a dog; this can cause all sorts of behavior to arise.
Do not pet a dog on the top of their head. You will see a lot of ducking when you do this; again it is a dominant gesture.
And do NOT feel compelled to touch.
This may all sound very restrictive. "How can I even say hi to a dog?" It's easy, don't push, ask and take your time. Let the dog tell you if they are cool with your approach. I'm just saying don't assume that every dog wants you touching it, most don't.
When I meet a dog at the park or out somewhere I read, I read all the signals that I am being thrown. Often a dog does not want anything to do with me, but if I keep my distance we’re cool. That’s fine. I happen to be a person who has a fairly big personal space myself, step into it without being invited and I’m likely backing up immediately. If I’m in a line at a store and someone feels that they should stand so close to me that I can feel them touching me? You bet I’m going to take a quick step back and claim my space. Dogs don’t like it anymore than we do but for some reason, maybe it’s the cute fuzzy faces, we feel that we have the right to touch.
Even asking someone if their dog is friendly does not mean that a dog wants to be touched. Read the signs; are they standing still, backing up or slinking down in posture? This means keep your distance. Even if a dog is not approaching you is a pretty big sign. Tilley gives off really clear signs that most people get. She is quite timid with new people as far as advances. She gets very low and retracts, sort of scary like, but this is only if someone tries to approach her who she does not know. She is Miss Polite after all and it is very rude to rush right into touching with getting to know someone. If she is allowed to sniff and meet someone then she may allow a chest touch, but she’d rather you didn’t. And if she has the proper amount of time to meet you then she'll probably end up in your lap.
Crouching down sideways is second nature to me now. In fact it is so natural to me that I found myself doing it at the Wolf Center a month ago. And surprisingly; it has the same effect with the wolves.