I have heard from a lot of clients recently about the challenges they face with their dog when out in public. Many owners aspire to get a puppy or dog to be a good companion, as an exercise buddy, to travel with, to go RVing…just a friend to go places with them and the family. Then reality set in when they realized the dog could not handle all the distractions in the public places, or maybe even could not even ride in the car politely to get to their destination. A trip to the local pet store could even be a disaster. The puppies and dogs ended up being an exhausting amount of work or even embarrassing at times. Time to call in the trainer!
The most common complaint I hear from these folks in addition to their dog’s poor behavior is about the oohing, ahhhing, baby talk and rushes towards the puppy or dog for a petting. Ironically, many are reaching in for the pet/grab/kiss concurrently as they ask for permission to pet the dog, if they even bother to ask, not even waiting for a response to the question.
I know it is a real thing. I experience the same challenges when I am out with a dog in public, even when the dog is clearly “in training”. I cringe when I hear a high-pitched cry of “PUPPPPPPPPY!” from a small child. One of my personal dogs is fine with people around, he co-exists beautifully, until you breech “his space” and then all bets are off. If he interprets a person coming towards, him when he is being very compliant in a sit or down command, and the person reaches for him without permission might just get a nip.
No, that is not ideal but I hardly can blame a dog for being reactive! Think about it for a minute - you might have a similar reaction if someone you do not know ran up to hug you. I might also question their intentions – are they trying to mug you? Put a bag over your head and haul you off? Is that person going to knock you in the head or push you over? Are they about to stick a dry bland “cookie” in your mouth? Even worse, are they about to try to kiss you?? That could definitely be interpreted as confrontation and a potential violation of your personal space. Not to mention it could leave you feeling “icky” from the experience.
My advice to owners is to prepare a canned response to stop the offender and tell them “no!” It is perfectly acceptable for you to politely say NO to not allow John Q Public to touch your dog. You will be advocating for your dog and helping her realize she can feel safe in that type of situation. As her owner, you are taking care of her and protecting her. Your dog will thank you. Your canned response might be one of the following:
- My dog is in training and I would appreciate your not touching her
- My dog might bite you so please do not try to pet her
- My dog is not friendly towards children so please do not allow them to pet her
- Thanks for liking my dog so much, I think she is pretty awesome too, but please do not pet her
Next time you are in a public place and see a service dog with a vest on that says “Do Not Pet”, notice how many people actually go in for a grope of the dog and try to pet her without first asking permission or waiting on the response. How many, even when they do ask, ignore the NO response and continue to move in for the petting? It is mind boggling to me that so many people are more interested in making themself feel good rather than with the well-being of the owner and especially her dog that they claim to “love” so much.
It makes me wonder - why do we have such a hard time saying NO? What is the reason we want to take the dog for a walk or to a public place? Is it for the dog’s enrichment and well-being or are we wanting to show off? Your response might be a key to why it’s hard for you to say no. My experience has been that for those friends and clients who take their dog out as an enrichment activity for the dog, they are able to say NO much more easily than those who want to show off their pet or who just want a companion to be with them.
If you have a dog that clearly is not comfortable in the public setting and that is one of your lifestyle goals with your dog, then you owe it to yourself and your dog to work with a trainer. Advocate for the dog to increase her comfort so the experience is as fun for the dog as it is for you. It’s all about BALANCE and advocating for your dog!