Maybe you have a dog who is fearful of people or a dog who does not like being approached by other dogs. Maybe you are actively working with a dog trainer to desensitize your dog from these triggers and don’t want to disrupt their progress by overwhelming them. Or maybe you just have a very small dog who is constantly being touched and picked up by well-meaning friends and family, but you know your dog is uncomfortable in these scenarios.
You may often feel like you are bombarded with statements like:
I know firsthand how frustrating and uncomfortable it is to constantly have to ward off well-meaning strangers. Know that by choosing to advocate for your dog in these tricky situations you are helping them reach their training goals. You will help them feel safer and protect them from rehearsing unwanted behaviors like lunging or growling when these people or dogs get too close.
In our culture, it is expected that dogs will tolerate a whole host of advances that we as humans would never accept. Imagine meeting a stranger and then being expected to sit passively as they stroked your face and hair.
Yikes! While yes, some people are very outgoing and identify as “huggers” most people don’t want this level of intimacy with strangers.
Dogs are the same.
There is a rare minority of dogs who love everyone they meet and want to be pet by new people. This is simply not the case for most dogs.
Most dogs are more reserved around strangers and do not want to be touched by them. And lots of dogs are fearful of strangers to the point that they will protect themselves from unwanted advances with warning growls, lunging, or their teeth.
There is nothing wrong with your dog if they are “shy” around new people. In fact, pushing dogs who are nervous around strangers to interact will often make their fears worse.
Instead, advocate for your dog so they can feel safe around new people. Advocate for your dog if they do not like greeting new dogs on leash, or if they are frightened when unleashed dogs charge them.
My clients often report that in the real world, they struggle to come up with what to say when friends or strangers try to handle their dogs in a way they know their dog will not like.
I always suggest “back pocket phrases” like the ones listed below. Memorize one or two of these sentences. When someone tries to reach for your dog or a stranger asks “can my dog say hi?” you won’t have to stumble, just state your phrase, thank them for asking and keep walking.
And here’s a handy graphic you can screenshot for future sticky situations!