Vest or not: Always ask before approaching someone else's dog!

Recently I made a post about keeping your dog's attention on YOU in public, by making sure you aren't slowing down your progress by letting people in public pet your dog. The discussions that followed were very good, and I hoped got dog handlers and owners thinking about what they were "reinforcing" in their dog's behavior! 

When you have a dog who LOVES people, it almost seems wrong to not allow people to pet your dog. However, as the previous post suggests, if your dog struggles with excitability and bad manners around new people, each time you say "yes, you can pet" and your dog gets jazzed up, jumps, breaks command, etc. your slowing down your training progress and taking steps in the wrong direction. It doesn't mean they'll never get to say "hi," but really consider how far along your dog is into their training and impulse control - and even more importantly, their focus in you in general. Your dog needs lots of time doing well in public without being pet, before you start to add that huge distraction and (likely) reinforcement for excitability.

On the flip side, your nervous dog will continue to be nervous or even start moving to biting/snapping if you keep trying to encourage socializing through strangers petting.

That blog was directed to Dog Owners/handlers who are having trouble with their dogs in public.

Now, on the flip side! This post is for the adoring public who love dogs, but may not realize that their attempts at making friends is actually making things harder on the dog and the handler.

I know it can be hard to ignore a dog - they're stunning! But, there are many dogs who are shy, timid, or sensitive to strangers. There are dogs who are OK greeting people at home, but are more stressed/anxious in the busy world and do not react well to the outside pressures of other people (or dogs) trying to say "Hi." There are dogs who don't mind being around people, as long as they arn't touched, crowded, or cornered. There are some dogs who have never interacted with children before, so can become stressed or defensive by the fast and grabby movements of kids (or unsure of the foreign size and sounds that kiddos present).

Vests that say "In Training: Do Not Distract" are awesome, but shouldn't be the only thing discouraging someone from interacting with a dog without asking.

Did you know making eye contact/talking with a dog can be just as distracting as petting? For wiggle worm pups, eye contact gets their gears going and immediately creates disconnect from their handler. For nervous dogs, eye contact can seem very threatening and actually make the dog even more uncomfortable than they were with you just standing there or walking by. Uncomfortable dogs can become defensive, and feel the need to snap or bite to make space - all because someone was try to "make friends." (This is a message to the general public AND to handlers who are trying to get their nervous dog better by making people pet them. It generally always gets worse and creates a dog who looses trust in you and is building up layers of stress that will lead to a bite.) Nervous dogs don't always show teeth or growl, they sometimes simply try and hide or get away from the scenario. Sometimes, they are shaking and panting. Sometimes, they are stiff, frozen, with a tight mouth and wide eyes. Regardless of what's going on, they are having a hard enough time processing the environment, let alone having people they don't know touch them. Outside petting isn't fair to that dog, and is likely setting them up to fail.

As an owner (or trainer) who is putting in the time to work on socialization and proper ettiqute with our dog, you are doing our dog and us a HUGE favor by asking us before you try and engage our dog. If we are eating at a restaurant and have a mouth full of food, or are struggling to push a buggy full of items towards the checkout -basically very preoccupied with our dog, our kids, or soemthing else...admiration from affar is much appreciated!

If you ask to greet our dog and we say "no," please don't take offense- our desicion is likely based on our dog's temperament or where we are in our training. Please, teach your child to always ask and to never HUG a dog who they get the greenlight to pet.

If you are one of those people who simply reach over and pet a dog without asking (or start talking to the dog, or let your dog come up to the dog) please stop. Not only is it rude or inconsiderate to touch/engage with something that isn't yours without asking first, your actions are dangerous and could get you, your dog, or your child who hasn't been taught to ask bitten. And that means you may be setting someone else's dog up to have to be put to sleep, because you invaded their space. (Now on the flip side, there is a big difference between a nervous dog not looking for conflict and someone who has a known biting and dangerous dog uncontrolled in public. If you're being your dog's best advocate for their safety and the public - KNOW YOUR DOG AND TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR BEHAVIOR AND ACTIONS).

Or, your un-invited petting caused a service dog to miss a signal that could protect their handler in the case of a medical emergency, like a seizure.

Or, a person who is trying so hard to get to a point where they can control their sweet but hyper dog stops trying to take their dog out, because the dog just won't pay attention to her because it's so engaged with other people. Dogs who bite and dogs who don't listen, often end up in shelters...and no one wants that for any dog.

So please, always ask first. Any compliment on our dog's cuteness or good manners is always appreciated. So many of us put a lot of work into our relationship and manners with our dog at home and away, and we appreciate your good intentions, but sometimes petting just isn't on the menu right now... no matter how cute she is, vest or not :)