Monday, February 8, 2010

People, Questions and the Dog Expo

I absolutely love to go to people’s homes and work with their dogs. I always liked it more than instructing group classes and am lucky, and deeply grateful, that I get to do only what I love these days.
The primary reason why I love it so much is cause I get to study many dogs in their natural setting, and I get a chance to make a dog feel better where he lives.
The other reason is that I meet many fantastic, and interesting people. Almost every one of my clients I like on a personal level. I typically don’t meet the jerks that mistreat their dogs. I guess, someone who hires me is already non-aggressive by nature, even if he or she used punitive methods in the past because a “professional” advised to do so.
I don’t envy today’s lay-dog-owners, because there is so much conflicting information out there that leaves many utterly confused. Not surprising that I am asked many questions during a consultation, which I welcome, cause it gives me a chance to add clarity. No question is a stupid one is also true regarding dog behavior.

Yesterday, a mother of two young children asked about the best way to approach a strange dog, after asking the owner’s permission – with an open hand, or made into a fist.
Here is the answer I gave:
Although it is understandable that children want to pat a dog, I would rather discourage, than encourage it. Only if the dog gives clear signals that he wants nothing more than to say hello, and has enough self-control to remain calm, should the child be permitted to approach. In other words, don’t ask the owner; ask the dog. Many owners don’t read a dog’s subtle discomfort signals very well, and although the dog might not bite, he might also not like to be touched by strangers very much.
A dog who loves children will say so with a lowered body, open and neutral mouth, soft eyes, fluid body and swooshingly wagging tail – not fast wagging, and not still. And he will reliably stay soft and fluid when children touch and pet and investigate. With those dogs, it doesn’t matter if the child is approaching with an open or closed hand. A dog who loves kids won’t bite.
For all dogs who don’t fall into that category, who are a bit concerned or conflicted about little hands they don’t know touching, the answer is: no petting allowed. Mothers and fathers, don’t take it personally when a dog does not share your feelings for your little darling. He is not a bad dog, or necessarily aggressive. He just wants his space respected by strangers. Like you do. I mean, how would you feel if a stranger were to ask to hug your child because she is so cute!
So hands-off, unless the dog signals unambiguously that he really wants the attention and feels very comfortable with it.

If you have a question, see me at the upcoming Dog Expo at the Halifax Forum on Feb. 21 (info at As long as it has to do with dogs, you’ll get an answer – or at least an expert opinion based on what I learned and experienced over the last 15 or so years.
I will also have a few Dump Dog copies for sale, which I’ll sign for you.
Hope to see you there.

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