Imagine you were walking down the street with a friend and random strangers were coming up to you and touching you. Imagine these advances weren’t welcome but your friend insisted you stand there and let it happen and when you objected, they held you down and STILL touched you and told you off for objecting. Horrifying? Yes it is. Welcome to the life of dogs.
For some reason, people believe that if they see a dog out in public, it is their right to touch that dog whether their advances are welcomed or not. Dogs shrinking away from touch are followed and still touched, children unknown to the dog run up and put their hands (and faces) in the dogs face, strangers reach over the top of the dogs head all while the dog is giving obvious (and sometimes not so obvious) signs that it is uncomfortable. When the dog gives an obvious objection (by growling etc) they are then reprimanded for being rude!
Now imagine you are a dog who’s owner is quite savvy and asks approaching strangers to stay away from you. Problem solved yeah? Often not.
When owners stand up for their dog who doesn’t like to be touched, they are often met with confrontation, questions, judgement and hostile attitudes. Some people just go ahead and try to touch the dog anyway.
So you may be asking why these owners take their dogs out in public if they don’t want to be touched. The answer to this is- because it’s their right to go out in public and not have their dog violated. They are entitled to try and socialise their dog safely in a public area to work on and reduce issues their dog may or may not be having. There are so many issues that dogs have that can’t be overcome without having access to the general public and different stimuli. Actively working on fixing these issues is the sign of a great owner who is trying their hardest to do the right thing by their dog and this should be encouraged and celebrated.
This is one subject I am SO passionate about. Why? Because currently I have a Belgian Malinois called Roy who is 2 years old, whom I have had for a year. Last night we went out to do some work, he was wearing a black jacket (as pictured) that very clearly states “DO NOT TOUCH”. Despite this, people seemed to interpret it as a challenge, a dare or an insult that they couldn’t get near him. A couple of people read the jacket out loudly and then asked “But surely I can touch him?”
Getting Roy comfortable around new people means being in the vicinity without people touching him. This helps him to get used to people not being “scary creatures”. Every time he’s around people that leave him alone, his confidence goes up. Every time he’s around someone that breaches his personal space and he isn’t sure of their intention, it scares him and sets him back in his progress. He has come a long way from where he started, but he simply does not want to be touched by strangers and that is ok.
So how do you know if a dog is interested in interacting with you? Next time you see a dog in the street, please ask the owner if you can touch but also, ask the dog! That is a simple as standing still and inviting the dog to you. If the dog doesn’t move forward and respond to your greeting, it’s not interested and once again, that’s ok! Perhaps that dog is feeling uneasy, perhaps it’s not used to crowds/traffic etc. Perhaps it’s just not interested in meeting new people. If the dog turns it’s head away from you leave it alone. If the dog backs away, leave it alone, If the dog stands still and doesn’t approach, leave it alone. Please remember that dogs are not public property and they have a right to personal space, just as you do.
**Please note that this isn’t permission to take highly aggressive and out of control dogs out into the public space and expect the public to deal with it. Lots of work goes into a dog that isn’t comfortable around people before it reaches this stage. Always be responsible and if you aren’t sure, ask your trainer.