My dog doesn't have to love your dog. Why would I expect them to?

This post is part of the 12 Things I Learned From My Dogs Series.

Freya and Roy Snoozing 7+ Years Ago

Freya and Roy Snoozing 7+ Years Ago

Last night I was talking with my father-in-law Roy and he said something that I enjoyed greatly, "Well, when we had all three kids at Disneyland we didn't run around asking other families if their kids were friendly. We didn't send our kids off to meet new kids.  We left them alone.  They left us alone.  We all did our own thing."  This made me laugh for quite some time, just picturing adults in public places demanding to know if other people's kids were friendly.  I just picture a mom letting her kids out of a car while hollering "THEY'RE FRIENDLY" as the kids descend upon the playground.

So why, if this is so absurd to think of, would it be OK for our dogs? 

My expectation of my dogs in public is to not infringe on the rights of others.  If I'm on the trail, we move off the trail to allow people to pass.  If I'm in a store, we'll take another isle.  I will give you lots of space, even if you have the nicest friendliest person and dog on the planet.  I don't make assumptions, because it isn't fair to my dog or your dog. 

My dogs are always honest about how they feel about different social situations:

Freya - "Everyone loves me, because I'm me! And I love you, and you, and especially you!" ERGO, I don't usually allow her off leash.  Her recall and self control are SO much better then they used to be, BUT I don't want to set her up for failure (or set her up for a dog fight when she meets the wrong dog.)  Plus letting her run up to people and other dogs is just rude.

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Sissy - "Being near me is a privilege afforded to humans only.  Canines need not apply. Pet me human!"  ERGO, when we are out, I take extra space.  Avoid dogs whenever possible to keep her comfortable, and in general we don't access trails or spaces at peak times during the day.  Having dogs press into her space would set her up for failure, and I don't want other dogs harmed.  Plus she is downright demanding for attention with people, and not everyone is a dog person.

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McCoy - "Dog's should not stare, look, or approach me period.  They mess up my orderly world."  ERGO, we usually go in the boonies to walk, or I drive to empty subdivisions.  We squeak into smaller agility trials and meticulously plan our walk to the ring.  If he doesn't feel comfortable in an environment, we don't participate and scratch our runs.  It isn't fair to risk his emotional well being or the well being of other dogs.

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And you know what, I wouldn't expect any of them to be any different.  I don't enjoy big parties, I have a huge space bubble, I'm a resource guarder (just try taking food away), and a fairly awkward social being.  So when I'm out and about, even with Freya Dog, I dread the call "he's FRIENDLY!" as a dog comes bolting my direction.  Or worse yet, when someone approaches after I have clearly avoided them and says "Is your dog friendly?" To which I always say NO, and leave immediately. 

Let's rethink the social expectations for our dogs.  They are living being just like us.  With their own preferences and space needs.  Give everyone space in public and get it in return.  I live for the day that people start respecting other dogs and people while out and about.

Summertime Space

Ah Summertime! Sun, lakes, trails, biking, hiking, playing, and getting out!  Summer is when even the most introverted of people get out and get more active.  This also means that many dogs are out and about too, some which don't like people, kids, dogs, wheels, or other things.

A common theme I've head this Summer is, "my dog is aggressive towards other dogs."  While there are aggressive dogs, typically the underlying issue is a lack of space and understanding on the handlers part.  Most dogs do well with other dogs, if they have the proper space and their handler understands their dog's body language.  Giving your dog space on walks, seeking the side of the trail as others pass, taking a longer route to avoid the barking dogs in a yard, and keeping your dog on leash at the lake isn't cruel.  It also doesn't make you a bad handler.  It's actually setting them up for success. 

No one loves every person they meet and dogs are no different.  Expecting a dog that instantly snaps at others, growls, or avoids dogs all together to be a social butterfly isn't fair.  So rather than wishing you had a socialite, respect the dog you have and be realistic in your expectations.  Dogs that need space aren't bad dogs and as handlers the best thing we can do is honor our dogs needs when we're out and about. 

The next time you take your dog out, just pause. Assess whether the environment is one they'll be comfortable in.  If you answer yes, plan extra time to take the space you need for success.  This small but important thought process will save you and others a lot of headaches.