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  • Richard Chan

She is sooo cute!

I like to share an observation. This is not meant to attack or make fun of anyone. In my opinion, this is a very important part of dog/human behaviour that has created a lot of problems and is often overlooked. I say this with the best intention to help dogs and their owners. When l bring my dog out to help with the training of a client dog or to do an evaluation, l usually notice something that tells me a lot about the person and it is also quite revealing to me about the kind of problem he/she has with the dog. There are usually two types of response when someone sees my dog. The first is a respectful and calm response. The person will look at my dog, ignore my dog, and give my dog space. The person does not become very emotional, does not make prolonged eye contact, and does not stand in front of the dog or try to pet the dog in anyway. This is rare. The second type is very common. These owners are the ones who really struggle with handling their dogs. The dog usually shows no respect to the person, is very anxious, and does not feel safe around the person. The person usually has no control of the dog. When they see the dog l bring out (a dog that is not theirs), they will become very aroused, they will display high emotional energy, they may try to stand right in front of the dog or even try to approach the dog, and they will keep staring at the dog and/or try to talk to the dog or reach their hands out for the dog to sniff. I usually need to remind them repeatedly to leave my dog alone (do not talk to my dog, do not look at my dog...). I also need to repeatedly move my dog away from their direct line of sight and stop them from exerting spatial pressure on my dog. They think a dog needs their “love” to be happy. They think dogs are fur babies and they cannot help themselves but to touch and talk to this cute baby. Because they have no awareness on how their behaviour could potentially stress a dog, they do not know how to stop their friends or even strangers from doing the same thing to their own anxious/fearful/reactive/aggressive dogs. They may think they need to get their dog to like other people by encouraging their friends to touch or give their dog treats while approaching their dog the way they approach other dogs. What is wrong with this picture? Why is it a big deal? Firstly, we should teach our dogs to engage in us more than anything else. We should not teach a dog to be obsessive about greeting other people. This will creat a lot of frustration and anxiety in a lot of dogs. A dog should first and foremost know how to focus on the handler, the dog’s first response upon seeing another person should not be “l will completely ignore my handler and demand attention/affection from this stranger right away.” Secondly, dogs are not human. They are a completely different species. The best and the most natural way to approach a dog is to show a dog respect by not putting pressure on the dog - do not stare, do not try to touch, and definitely no baby talk in high pitch voice. A stranger dog does not need your attention to be complete. On the other hand, a stranger dog can feel anxious or stressed by your spatial pressure (how you move your body towards the dog), your prolonged and constant starring, and your emotion and baby voices (which can be interpreted as unstable energy and may reward an improper mental state). If you are not aware of how your approach can stress another dog, how can you advocate for your anxious dog by stopping other people from approaching your dog? Here is what l would recommend when you meet a dog that is not your own, and you should ask others to do the same when they meet yours. Please do not stare at the dog. That will not make the dog happier. It is unnatural in the animal world and can really stress out a dog. Please do not position your body in front of the dog or in the direct line of the dog’s movement. That can be considered rude and very intimidating to a lot of dogs. You should stay out of the way and give the dog lots of space. That is how you show love to a dog - by showing respect and honouring the needs of the dog. The behaviour of a person when he/she first meets a dog is tied to how they look at dogs, what they expect from their dogs, and how they live with their dogs. The second type of approach is also, in most cases, tied to why their dogs are so stressed, anxious, reactive, and entitled. I am not saying these people are bad owners. Actually, they are usually very kind and loving dog owners who will do anything for their dogs. The problem is: what they think their dog needs is not really what their dog truly needs. Often, they are giving the dog the opposite of what the dog needs. Unfortunately, the more they try, the worse the dog gets - because the dog is not getting what is best for the dog. In the animal world, eye contact, how we position our body, our tone of voice, and our emotion, are really big. They are interpreted very differently than how we do in the human world. We show our friendliness to another human by making eye contact and body contact, but it is not natural and not desirable for many dogs to be approached this way. Respect and friendliness are better expressed through giving a dog space, leaving a dog alone, and getting out of the way of the dog. When a dog feels respected, trust will follow. A dog will respect and trust the owner more when the owner knows how to enforce these rules with other people. This is a very common observation in my work. And l just want to bring this to everyone’s attention - not as an attack but a friendly reminder.

Thank you.


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