Can I pet your dog? No!

September 18, 2016

Happy Saturday everyone! Hope your weekend is off to a good start!

Yesterday I had an encounter with a security guard who worked where one of my dog 'students' lives. He really pushed my buttons so decided sharing my story would not only be cathartic, it may be of some value to you or someone you know. There is a good chance we've all been in a similar situation...

I was pulling up to the guard gate and my student (I will call him 'Rover' to protect his identity) was on the seat next to me. He is a very cute little fellow but is wary of people he doesn't know and has tried to bite people. We've worked with him on 'avoidance training' and he's worked very hard to avoid situations and people or animals he doesn't feel comfortable with. He is quite astute.

Okay back to the story: the guard, after asking me where I was headed, started to reach into my van to pet Rover, commenting on what a cute little dog he was. I told the guard not to pet Rover as he is sometimes nervous around people he doesn't know and may try to bite. The guard quickly "informed" me that dogs know who is "good" and who is "bad" so Rover would not bite him. I corrected him that it is not that black and white so again, please do not pet him. The guard SHOVES HIS HAND INTO THE VAN AND PROCEEDS TO PET ROVER! I quickly realized that since the guard won't listen to me, I will work with Rover. I kept him calm, had him focus on me and told him what a GREAT GOOD BOY he was for letting the strange man pet him.


After the ordeal was over, the guard smugly pointed out that everything was fine because Rover knew he was a "good" person. While I was taking deep breaths (and still praising Rover for what an amazing, tolerant boy he was!) I told him that Rover has snapped at kids before and those kids were not "bad". They were just kids. The guard filled me in that the kids probably looked Rover in the eye and that's why Rover tried to bite them. He started to reach into the van again to pet Rover but this time Rover immediately tensed up and bared all his teeth at the guard. "Here we go" I said. "You can not keep trying to pet this dog or he WILL try to bite you (I was in control of Rover but was trying to make a point here). That's not fair to him".  The guard let me know that he accidentally looked Rover in the eyes and that's why he was threatened this time.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Then I realized that this is a very common misconception. Yes, a dog may feel threatened if you stare at him or try to suddenly pet him. That may cause him to growl, snap, bite, etc. However, there are also dogs that are nervous around people with hats. Or sunglasses. Or people in wheelchairs. Or people who look like every other person on the street. Dogs have preferences just like we do.

If you know your dog has preferences, it is very important you stick up for him and let people know that he is not comfortable being touched by strangers. It is NOT about them it is about your dog's comfort zone. You are his advocate and he needs to know you have his back.  There will be people who are sure they know more than you, even if it is YOUR dog you are talking about but stick to your guns and stick up for your dog. It's okay if he is not the most happy-go-lucky dog who likes to snuggle up to everyone. He's allowed to be who he is! Just like the rest of us! There are a lot of people who think all dogs love them or dogs can tell who is good or bad and those are not necessarily untruths. The reality is until dogs can actually tell us what they are thinking and feeling we must do our best to interpret their behaviors, build trust and advocate for who they are. That is What Dogs Want.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and have FUN WITH YOUR DOG!!!! And don't forget-the October Activity Kit will be available to order next week! The theme is scent work and problem solving!


Stefanie & Indy (who can be nervous around people he doesn't know)



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