You can see it coming.
The child rushing toward you, hand outstretched, a caregiver lagging behind while reminding; “remember to ask”…
The gleeful woman broadcasting, “he just wants to say hi”…as she desperately clings to a retractable leash while her pooch digs in, determined to come pounce on your pup.
All those feelings that are bubbling up inside of you. If you’re lucky, and have a dog that can tolerate the intrusion, you may only feel a slight annoyance. But if you own a dog that doesn’t cope so well your emotions range from anger to full on panic.
You have to stop the incoming, hope that your request is respected, and (in many cases) you’ll feel the need to explain yourself.
Somehow, dogs have come to be thought of as public property. I’m not sure when this trend started. I have a hard time envisioning a past where strangers approached one another asking if their dogs could say hi.
Now-a-days walk down any street in America and see what happens. Dogs are fawned over, cooed at, and pointed out to children with the “ask to pet him” comment. It leaves me to wonder, perhaps in the coming decades this behavior will carry over to other situations.
Maybe something like:
Hey, can I touch that wig you’re wearing? It looks so soft!!
Wow, that is a gorgeous Porsche!! I used to have one of those, mind if I take it for a quick spin?
Look sweetie, look at the beautiful diamond ring that lady is wearing, isn’t it SO pretty!!! Go ask her if you can have a closer look and maybe try it on.
If you get the idea that I’m over this sort of behavior, you’re right. I started a non-profit called Aware Pet Owner to help spread the right messages. The goal is to educate communities on how to share public areas safely and respectfully with companion pets.
Sharing space successfully depends on everyone in the community. We expect dog owners to step up and be responsible, but non pet owners need to participate in the process as well. The main lesson that needs learning is to stay back, admire from a distance if you wish, but don’t ask or approach a dog unless invited.
It may take a while before this is common knowledge, but let’s continue to spread the message.
In the meantime, here are a few coping strategies on how to get out of the uncomfortable situation of having to decline those requests. These excuses suit personalities that range from shy and polite to very direct.
So when the “No, sorry not today”, gets you the “Aw, poor pupper, mommy won’t let anyone say hello to you” response…one of these replies should do the trick.
For the “Can I pet your dog” question:
He’d love that, but he just got diagnosed with mange so it’s probably not a good idea until we finish treatment(This response is particularly effective if you accompany it with some nervous laughter!)
Those of you with a more direct sense of humor can give an indifferent shrug of the shoulders and reply: Ok, but it’s at your own risk!…Good luck.
When you hear the blurting statement, “He just wants to say hi!”
Post a big, silly grin on your face and say: Awesome! Hope it isn’t a problem that we are treating him for a flea infestation right now.
Or if you already possess a solid resting b*tch face, this one works well:
You better put the brakes on, or someone is going to get hurt.
It is a shame we have to explain ourselves or come up with excuses, but until a simple “No” suffices…feel free to use and share!
Aware Pet Owner, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Support is always welcome
You can Donate Here
Yes the freedom a dog has in Europe is something to see. I remember when I was growing up with dogs they just went with us, investigated their surroundings, then returned. People in Europe see this and are used to it. Even when walking on leashes you don’t see other people approaching. Also the approaching problem here in America with people and dogs has gotten way out of control. I am a dog walker in my Florida neighborhood and all the dogs in the hood know each other. Some can mix and some can’t, just like humans. My advice…respect that! I agree with you.
Thanks for sharing your experience Laurie.
I hope I get to travel to Europe someday and experience the dog culture there.
My dog started out being very shy and nervous and reactive, and one of the things that I have focused on most has been getting him used to making friends easily with unfamiliar dogs and unfamiliar people of all ages.
Now he loves meeting new people and new dogs, and he gets along beautifully with all of them. To the point that having strange people (with or without their dogs) come up and ask to meet him is his favorite thing in the world.
These interactions obviously makes him very happy, and they obviously make the other people and dogs very happy, and (since they are among the few moments of true joy that I regularly observe in my life) they make me very happy as well.
Of course, other people who feel that it is an invasion of their privacy to have their dog interact with other people or dogs should not be forced to have this happen. It is their right to be left alone if that is what they want.
While I personally feel that all dogs would be happier and healthier if they were to be trained to be able to easily socialize with other humans and dogs in a positive and casual way, other people can do what they like with their dogs. That is their choice.
But regardless, I would like to disagree forcefully with this line: ” The main lesson that needs learning is to stay back, admire from a distance if you wish, but don’t ask or approach a dog unless invited.”
Rather, I think that it should be considered fine for adults to ask if they can pet a dog that is out in public, and that it should be considered fine for kids to ask if they can pet the dog, and that it should be considered fine for other dog owners to ask if their own dog can say hi to the dog.
If someone says no, then that should be respected, of course.
But suggesting that people not even feel that it is okay to ask doesn’t seem right to me at all, since for a lot of people and a lot of dogs, a world where everyone followed that dictate would be a lot worse rather than any better.
Thank you for sharing your opinion Lisa. I totally get where you are coming from. And it may seem harmless to ask…but from the vantage point I’ve had for many years in this industry, I don’t believe it is. The common “remember to ask” line has lead to people assuming the answer will always be yes (because NO very rarely occurs)
I’ve coached many owners that truly struggle to say no. They feel embarrassed that their dog has some issues. Strangers then start giving out unsolicited advice. Others feel social pressure to say yes, even when they don’t want to. Some people say yes, because they don’t realize the body language of their dog is saying no. They mistakenly think it’s fine…until it isn’t. 🙁
I don’t see why people should be put in that position? We don’t ask to hold a strangers child, or touch a person or their possessions. Why do we feel it is ok with dogs?
People that want the interaction for their dog can INVITE others to approach. A smile and an invitation is something that others can learn to wait for. When I’m handling a dog that is social, I notice other people noticing. It’s very obvious if they are saying something to their children or stopping and commenting on the dog I have with me. On frequent occasions I do stop and invite them to come and pet the dog.
Additionally, there are times when the person simply does not respect the no response.
Over the years I have literally told people, “this dog bites” when I’m out working with an aggression case and had people reach in anyway, telling me “it’s okay, dog’s like me”. I’ve had children run up from behind, with literally no warning, and hug the dog I had on the other end of the leash. I’ve been charged by off leash dogs that their owners have no control over. I’m yelling “Get your dog!” while the owners are 50+ yards away yelling “it’s okay, he’s friendly”. I’ve had to ward off, grab, kick at, tackle and get bit trying to protect a dog I have with me all because others make assumptions that it’s ok to approach, ignore, intrude and impose because “it’s a dog.”
If we move the common thought toward Admire from a distance and wait until you’re invited, It becomes entirely the choice of the owner. We’d all be safer as would the dogs.
Love them all! I have used the mange one several times. It really does work when nothing else will.
I think people just get “puppy brain” and are only thinking about themselves and they get really surprised when they are told no. It catches them off guard.
I agree. I think the majority of people are trying to do what they’ve been taught is best, ie. to ask permission and they generally just anticipate a yes response. Most people are respectful…but boy the ones that aren’t….ugh. Sometimes I have a bloody tongue from biting down so hard. 😅
I remember declining to have my dogs greeted by a random stranger’s dog, and she said “That’s so sad”. What was sad was her ignorance, I should have, but didn’t, say. Travelling you can’t help notice how much more freedom and acceptance dogs have in Europe—on the street, on public transportation, in restaurants. Parents there are likelier to say to their kids, “Don’t disturb the dog.”
I’ve heard many stories about the different attitude toward dogs in Europe. I hope to experience it someday. How refreshing it would be to simply hear parents say “Don’t disturb the dog” That would be wonderful!