Being in that “Can I Pet Your Dog” situation is something we can all relate to. When we’re out and about, we come across an irresistibly cute fluffy creature and we can’t resist reaching out to give it a gentle touch. It’s highly likely that we’ve also experienced the other side of this scenario, when our own dog becomes the center of attention for a passerby.
Yet, comprehend we must. Because, believe it or not, few dogs automatically love being on a leash and touched by strangers. As hard as it is for us to accept, that quiet dog being petted may well be hating every moment that the human is enjoying so much. While that’s important to understand when you’re the stranger in the scenario, it’s absolutely critical when you’re the one holding the leash.
However, if you have an anxious dog, part of the process of soothing their reactive behavior involves advocating for them and minimizing triggers. This often means keeping them away from unfamiliar individuals. The same principle applies when you’re in the middle of a training session. The last thing you want is someone interrupting your dog’s focus and potentially hindering their progress by approaching to say hello. It may feel uncomfortable to decline people when they ask to pet your dog, but it can bring significant benefits.
While it is not inherently wrong to want to share the joy of your dog with others, it may not always be in your dog’s best interest or in line with your training objectives. If you desire a calmer, more balanced dog that does not pull towards everyone, a more self-assured dog that relies on your guidance and direction, and a more engaged and connected dog, it is important to practice saying “no thank you”.
While many dogs enjoy social interactions with strangers, there are others who do not appreciate being handled by people they have no relationship with. Help your dog feel secure and supported, and politely decline. Remember, your dog is your responsibility, and it is perfectly acceptable to say no. Uncertain about whether your furry friend wants to engage with that passerby? Observe their body language. Do they tightly shut their mouth and become tense? Do they lower their tail? Do they show signs of anxiety? These dogs may prefer to explore using their sense of smell rather than being touched.
Plenty of wonderful dogs are not eager to say hello to strangers. They may feel anything from uninterested, to wary, to terrified. In some cases, they have been specially bred – by humans – to feel what they’re feeling.
Unfortunately, because we humans value petting dogs so much, we often ignore that pesky truth. We tend to believe that all good dogs should happily accept petting from anybody at any time. But dogs have plenty of reasons for choosing to say no:
There are many reasons, all legitimate, that may make a dog prefer to skip this unnecessary interaction.
Becoming conscious of just how deeply some dogs do not want to be randomly touched is the first step toward realizing that we really should be asking dogs, not their handlers, whether or not we can pet them. Ultimately, it’s the dog’s consent we need in order to safely pet them, not the human’s.
If somebody asks, “May I pet your dog?” smile at their interest and tell them “ask the dog”. Then show them how:
Often, this approach gets us to a waggy “yes” from even a shy dog in 30 seconds!
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