I really do think that people mean well. Honestly. But often times, we can treat dogs as things to be interacted with; how and when we please and not acknowledge or see them as emotional, thinking, feeling, intelligent beings. We think about human wants and needs and not dog wants and needs.
Touch is usually a pretty important, basic, and primal need for most humans. Touch deprivation can drastically alter a person’s emotional well-being in negative ways. Touch is how we communicate. Touch is how we connect. That is all okay. But what is not okay is to push our agendas and needs onto unwilling participants (both humans and animals).
While it can be true that many dogs often do enjoy touch from humans, it can be human and situation dependent. For example, just because my dog may seek out and accept belly scratches from me, doesn’t mean that they would seek out or be comfortable with belly scratches from people they do not know. I believe that physical contact and interaction is a right and privilege that humans must earn from dogs. We do not have the right to pet all of the dogs. It reminds me of that saying “I just want to pet all of the dogs”. Which is actually a life goal of mine too (I get it) but it really should say “I just want to pet all of the dogs that want to be petted”.
Many dogs do not enjoy physical touch from both humans they know and don’t know. Out touch can sometimes be unwelcome and not in a way that encourages the dog to feel comfortable (think pats or slaps on the head or body, rubbing the fur back and forth in different directions, or grasping and pulling-which is common for babies when they are learning fine motor skills and aren’t able to control this reflex).
Dogs also have different ways in which they enjoy being touched. Some love the ears being rubbed, some do not. Some enjoy pats on the head, some do not. Some enjoy butt and chest scratches, some do not. We need to remember and consider the individual and always ask ourselves “is this something the dog would enjoy?”
Tips to keep everyone safe and happy!
1. Always ask the pet parent if it is okay that you interact with a dog!
-If they say no, be respectful (key word is respectful my friends) and walk away. You don’t have to and are actually not allowed to interact with or touch every dog that you see.
*Funny story* I was working with two of my pups who are a bit reactive when others dogs are around. They were killing it with remaining calm and keeping their attention and focus and NOT freaking out with other dogs being kind of nearby. A little girl can sprinting over and asked if she could pet the dogs. I said not right now, they are working on training, but thank you for asking! She threw some major shade at me, said fine-I’m leaving then bye in a super sassy tone, and mean mugged me the entire time she walked back to her mom. I was dying. What sass! What attitude! Listen kid-you’re cute, but keep your damn hands off my damn dogs please and thank you. Now shoo!
2. (and this might be the most important and is often skipped): Always ask the dog if they consent to interaction with you!
How do we ask? Instead of going over to the dog and stepping into their personal space, invite them to come into yours. If a dog is happy with a loose and wiggly body and leans into you, this is accepting your invitation to interact. If they do not approach or approach hesitantly, this is not consent. This is either being uncomfortable (not approaching) or curious (wanting to check you out and interact with you, but this doesn’t necessarily mean touch!
3. Resist the urge to reach over the top of the dog’s body or head. Dogs do better with a hand coming up underneath their head or along their body. The chest and shoulders are usually good places to start.
4. Resist the urge to pet a dog or a puppy that is being held.
5. You do not need to touch/pet/interact with all the dogs and puppies! I promise. You won’t die if you don’t get to pet that cute, fluffy puppy.
6. Keep your damn hands to yourself! 🙂 I practice this one ALL THE TIME (and I teach puppy classes, so sometimes it is extremely difficult not to touch and squish aloof the precious babies!)
Most of the dogs that I work with regularly are comfortable with and will seek out touch and interaction from me. However, it took us a bit to get there. By being respectful of their space (both personal and body), you can earn a dogs trust a lot faster. Respect the boundaries. This will also keep you safe as us humans often miss body language cues and signs that a dog is uncomfortable, we approach anyway, and may get growled, lunged, or snapped at or even worse, actually bitten.
When I am out and about with a dog who is outgoing and usually enjoys meeting and interacting with new people, here are a few things I will do. When someone asks, I say “Sure, but only if he/she is okay with it”. Sometimes dogs are not okay with it and will walk away from the person or get behind me.
If the dog is okay with it, I let them know a few places that would be okay and then demonstrate. “She/he really likes it if you scratch her/him on the chest just like this”. This helps to steer people away from going over the dog’s head or body or trying to pet places and in ways that the dog might not enjoy.
It’s okay and essential to advocate for your dog. You are their guardian and you must protect them. You can say no. You can walk away. You can tell people how to interact with your dog. And you can do all of it nicely and sweetly. No need to be mean to anyone 🙂 But if you feel the need to say F*** no, you may not pet my dog, that’s your right too! ; )