This post is inspired by my sister, who recently moved out here to LA for grad school. Just prior to her move out here, someone dumped a 7 month old malinois at my shop, Whiskers N’ Tails. She was never socialized, skittish and overall distrusting of everyone, and no one could blame her. Add your typical malinois breed characteristics on top of this and she could be a tricky case.
Long story short, my sister and this little insecure malinois bonded. Ivy named her Tuna and she agreed to foster her. Within a few short days, Ivy had Tuna literally eating out of her hands, following her everywhere, not willing to take her eyes off her. It was a good thing. But Ivy lived in downtown LA (think always busy streets) and Tuna would react and bark at anyone who wasn’t Ivy. It was going to be a big problem. Having a big sister that’s a dog trainer does have it’s benefits though. We quickly got Tuna to the point of not reacting to strangers on walks, and Ivy was doing a great job of maintaining it.
The other day though, she came to me and said, “Tuna lunged at two people, we need to fix this.” I asked her the circumstances surrounding these “attacks.” In one case, she was sitting on the steps at school with Tuna on leash, a stranger came up and pet Tuna while Ivy was focused on working on her laptop. Tuna let the stranger pet her for a few seconds before barking and jumping up at him. The second instance, Tuna was urinating on a patch of grass and Ivy was watching her do so, when a jogger came up onto the sidewalk right behind them and jogged past. Tuna lunged at him as he passed.
While it is absolutely startling (and embarrassing) to have your dog behave and react this way, in both instances here, I am not surprised at all that Tuna reacted the way she did. And my advice to Ivy, in addition to more training for Tuna, is to learn to just say no and be more diligent.
Not every dog is a social butterfly. Just like people can be wallflowers, anxious, bubbly or straight up anti social, dogs can be too. We, as dog lovers, sort of have this crazy expectation that our dogs MUST be social, must say hi to everyone, must love and want to play with other dogs, in order to be happy. But think about how ridiculous that sounds! It’s kind of like expecting your human children to be like this all the time:
Sometimes, a dog needs personal space. Sometimes, a dog doesn’t need or want to say hi to anyone or any dog. We as dog owners really need to respect this. If your little human child was crabby and needed downtime, you certainly know better than to bring him to a party and pass him around the crowd, or let everyone come up and pinch his cute chubby cheeks. Why do we do this to our dogs?
Learn to read your dog. Learn to just say no, to people who want to pet your adorable pup, when the pup doesn’t want to be approached. Body language is important. Let’s take a look at this amazing chart, by Lili Chin, because it’s very informative and also adorable:
Now, take a look at the following pictures of dogs – can you interpret what the dogs might be saying and asking for? (disclaimer: a picture is never a good indicator of what’s actually going on, but for our intents and purposes, let’s just roll with it…)
Easy one, right? This dog is asking for space, loudly! He’s barking, but it does appear there is no forward aggression (in the picture anyway). This would indicate that the dog is more nervous and fearful, than actually angry and mean. Should you approach this dog? Should you try to pet it? If you are the dog’s owner, should you say, “He loves kisses to the nose, I swear!”??
Ooh. This is a good one. The dog is already being pet. The guy still has his face on him. Doesn’t seem to be in fear for his life. So it’s all good, right? NO! Check out the dog’s body language. Hunched spine, tail is tucked, ears pinned back, back legs low and awkward, right? Head position, looking AWAY from the nice dude touching him. Why? Aversion. He is trying very hard to avoid this man because he is not comfortable. He does not want to be touched, he does not want to be there, period. The owner (hopefully not this guy) should have just said no. No pic for my dog today, thanks!
You guys knew I’d have to throw a tricky one in, right? This is Doug. Is Doug comfortable in this pic? He looks cute, all snuggled up with the blanket over his head, right? Maybe. But I know Doug, so let me explain that he is NOT ok here. Doug has bitten his owners several times before, because he is a dog that needs a lot of space. And prior to training with me, Doug’s owners did cute stuff like this with him a lot. They hugged him a lot. They tried to kiss his face, a lot. Doug would often give THIS look. We call it the ‘whale eye.’ When it is paired with stiffness, or the dog is sort of frozen, please, back off the dog! He is feeling anxious and pressured and needs his space!
In conclusion, it is OK to say no to strangers! The take home here, is that it really is ok to tell people, “I’m sorry. You can’t pet my dog.” We can all agree, that as dog owners we all want to make sure our dogs are healthy, happy, and we can provide all the necessities and more for them. For some of us, in order to fulfill those things, we need to recognize, respect and accept, that that may mean we do not take our dogs to dog parks, doggy day care, the dog beach, let people pet them, hug them, or kiss them.
As always, if you have questions about where your dog falls on the social spectrum, contact a local, reputable and qualified dog trainer for an evaluation and professional advice.