By: Melissa Kolmar, CPDT-KA, SBA
Have you ever been walking your dog when someone approached and asked to pet them? You know your dog can be uncomfortable about new people, but you don’t want to be impolite so you say yes. The person reaches out to pet your dog and your dog cowers and growls. Oh no! We get more embarrassed and tighten up on the leash as we apologize and pull our dog away. The tightness on the leash (and closeness of the stranger) causes your dog to start barking. Yikes!
There are several problems with the above scenario, but we are going to tackle the first one: allowing people to approach our dog when we know it’s not a good idea. There are many reasons why we may want to avoid greetings:
1. Our dog is an over-enthusiastic greeter who will jump all over a new person
2. Our dog is nervous/stressed about new people
3. Our dog has never met a child/tall man/person on a bike/person carrying shopping bags/etc.
4. Our dog has had a stressful day already
5. WE have had a stressful day already
6. We are in the middle of a training session
7. Insert other reason here…
I have always encouraged people to advocate for their dogs and not let people approach if their dogs need space. However, I realize that is often easier said than done! We often get embarrassed, stressed, nervous and self-conscious when we have to say no to someone. That’s why I recommend practicing (it’s not just for the dogs!). Start by practicing how you would say no when there is no one else around. Then recruit friends or family members and practice saying no to them. Practice a lot so it becomes second nature! By the time you have to say it to a stranger, you will feel more comfortable.
Not sure what to say? Here are some ideas:
1. We are in training and not greeting today.
2. My dog isn’t a fan of strangers.
3. No, thank you! (short and to the point)
4. My dog needs space.
5. My dog scared. Please do not approach.
And my personal favorite…
6. No, my dog is contagious!
When you say no, also practice moving you and your dog away from that person. That way your dog gets distance from the exciting/scary thing and that person is farther away from trying to reach out to your dog.
If you know your dog is worried about people, also consider getting a vest or leash sleeve. These days, you can have them say all kinds of things but some popular sayings are:
1. Do not approach
2. Do not pet
4. Needs space
5. In training