Not Everyone is Your Friend

Honey the Golden Retriever plays bitey face with Bandit the foster puppy.

Honey likes many of the foster dogs who stay with us.

Honey and I have something in common.

We like nearly everyone we meet.

Can you imagine how uncomfortable it feels when one of us discovers we don’t like someone?

I Just Hate Her

The first time she called me, she spent half an hour on the phone crying about her landlord.

Usually I’m quite patient with people in crisis who need to get things out. I’ve had more than one conversation with heavily medicated patients in the psychiatric ward looking for help buying a house when they are released. I want every person to feel like he’s the only person in the world when he meets with me.

But this woman made me nuts. The more I met with her, the more I hated her. And that is a word I don’t use lightly.

Even today, years later, if I saw her on the street, I would turn and walk the other way. Even if she saw me first.

It’s a good thing I’m not a dog. Because if I were forced to greet her while confined by a leash, I would bite her.

The Only Cat Honey Hates

Honey the Golden Retriever and Layla the foster dog relax at home.

But not every foster dog ends up being her buddy.

We have two dog-tolerant cats in the neighborhood that Honey likes to greet on a walk. I make Honey sit and be still while the cat approaches her. Otherwise, her excited play bows would frighten off the felines.

Even cats who are wary of her attract Honey’s friendship. She sits and watches a cat as if to say, “I won’t hurt you. I just want to say hello.”

But there’s one cat in the neighborhood that Honey hates.

He lives two doors over with her Golden Retriever boyfriend. If Honey sees him in the yard next door, she goes tearing off the porch barking and chases him until he’s out of sight.

I’m not sure why Honey hates this particular cat so much. He’s a very successful hunter leaving dead squirrels, rats, and pigeons on his people’s front steps. Maybe Honey is a pacifist who abhors violence.

There is also one dog in the neighborhood Honey doesn’t like. It’s the same dog who attacked my previous dogs several times. When he walks by the house, Honey barks and lunges at the window like a lunatic.

I’ve never known her to do that with any other dog.

If we see this dog on a walk, we cross to the other side of the street. Honey doesn’t have to be nice to everyone.

Allowing Our Dogs to Pick Their Friends

I think a lot about our high expectations for our dogs.

We want them to be friendly and calm around everyone. But we don’t expect the same of ourselves.

I’ve avoided people I didn’t want to talk to. I’ve lied to get out of going to a gathering. I’ve made excuses to end a long conversation.

But dogs don’t have those options when they don’t like someone. While confined on the end of a leash, your dog might endure the following:

  • an overly friendly person who pats him on the head or ruffs his fur the wrong way
  • a noisy child with food smeared all over her face and hands
  • an energetic puppy who jumps on his head
  • a rude dog with poor greeting skills.

And what are his options if he’s on leash? Putting up with it, turning away and hoping someone gets the message, growling, and finally, biting.

Poor dogs. They don’t have the option of making excuses, sarcastic comments, or walking the other way.

Does Your Dog Want to Be My Friend

Honey the Golden Retriever poses beside Fall Creek in Ithaca.

Will you be my friend?

Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve stopped greeting dogs I meet on the streets. Reading about people whose dogs struggle with daily interactions has increased my sensitivity.

I no longer assume a dog is an extrovert who wants to be my friend. I admire her from a distance and wait to see if she approaches me. Usually she doesn’t. And that’s ok.

Every dog should be allowed to pick her friends.

It’s not that we should give up socializing our dogs and teaching them tolerance.

Just like we paste on a phony smile sometimes and nod politely to someone we’re not interested in speaking to, dogs need to learn how to deal gracefully with a range of social situations.

But they should also be allowed an excuse or two when they just don’t want to be someone’s friend.

Your Turn: Is your dog particular when choosing friends? Or does he like everyone? How about you?

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  1. Pamela, I like the way you think. Here I’ve been feeling guilty that Jack is less sociable than the average Lab…but why should he be expected to be like other Labs…I’m less sociable than the average person (introvert) but I don’t feel guilty about it. Guess I’ll adjust my expectations accordingly.

  2. We have to be sociable living in town so it is important we learn early on to get along. Having said that there are some not so nice dogs and we avoid them best we can. Have a super Saturday.
    Best wishes Molly

  3. You raise an excellent point – Thanks for your thoughts on the topic. When we’re out walking and meet up with unfamiliar dogs (or any other place where I can’t necessarily control the circumstances), I institute a 5 second sniff rule, then we’re gone. It takes the pressure off of everyone – dogs and people!

  4. Excellent post. Thank you.

  5. Gizmo showed me something interesting today…We went to the SPCA Dog Walk…there were hundreds of dogs there and Giz was walking through the crowd peacefully, just a little sniffing here and there…and then we met up with his Doggie Social Club pals…Illness and injuries had kept us from meeting up since January but Giz recognized his pals Winter & Finn immediately and the three spent the rest of the event together clearly happy and comfortable in each others’ company

  6. What a fabulous post! It ties in so well with by belief that we should NOT be training our dogs not to growl. That growl is a warning: I don’t like this. There are a number of people I just don’t care to share my time and space with, why shouldn’t my dogs be allowed the same luxury.

  7. I like everyone! Shame not everyone likes me:-(

  8. I sooooooooooooooo LOVED THIS! “I no longer assume a dog is an extrovert who wants to be my friend. I admire her from a distance and wait to see if she approaches me. Usually she doesn’t. And that’s ok.

    Every dog should be allowed to pick her friends.”

    Many people who meet Dakota are rather taken aback by how “aloof” or “unfriendly” he is. He isn’t. I like to call it discerning. He will NOT just go to anyone! I prefer to refer to him as being more “cat-like”….he takes his time deciding if he likes other people and animals and when he doesn’t, he doesn’t!

  9. I wonder if Honey can tell that the dog that attacked your last dog is just not a friendly fellow. Weird about the cat though…specially since she likes other cats.

    I agree dogs should be able to pick who they want to be friends with, and I never force interactions. Meadow and Leah are choosey about who they warm up to, both human and dog alike. Toby will friend anyone, even if it is another dog that is growling at him, so “I” have to pick and choose his friends for him. :-)

  10. My dogs will gladly meet people with no problem, but other dogs, not so much. They will behave and walk nicely with them as long as the other dogs aren’t pushy in their greetings, but have no desire to be BFFs. Since I have 4 dogs they have their own little group of friends they hang with. Their attitude toward other dogs is a lot like my attitude toward people. I tend to have a small group of close friends that I interact with. I’m not out looking to make everyone my friend. It’s one of my introvert qualities.

  11. This was an awesome post, and definitely gave me a lot to think about.

    I’ll stop feeling bad when my dogs don’t want to socialize with another dog, maybe they’re just telling me that this one is particularly annoying.

  12. Maybe Honey picked up on your vibe when she saw the dog who attacked your former dog walk by—even if it was from seeing your reaction on another occasion.

    Our dog pretty much assumes every dog and person is his friend until they demonstrate otherwise, in which case he runs around and hides behind my legs. However, if we are at a safe distance and he knows he’s on a leash, I’ve seen him show fear aggression towards bigger dogs he sees at a distance.

    He is fascinated by cats, but he’s not sure of what to make of them. It’s one of the few words he understands. If you ask him where the cat is, he runs and looks out the window from which he saw his first cat. One day we came upon one sitting quietly on the pavement (usually they run away). So, I let Dino approach him/her slowly. When he got up close enough, he leaned in for a good whiff and then immediately took off as though he had touched something that hurt him. The cat just sat there.

    Comment on people: The person to whom you took virtually an instant dislike might have a borderline personality disorder. My husband, a physician, says a good diagnostic tool for that particular disorder is when after spending a few minutes with them, you feel like strangling them. Using that technique, I’ve been able to “diagnose” a few of my former disability clients. Almost invariably, that diagnosis appears somewhere in their medical records. However, just because they have a diagnosis, doesn’t mean you have to be their friend. It’s still more or less a free country.

  13. I like the way you think Pamela. I always thought the same way. :)

  14. So true Pamela. Frankie tends to not like little old dogs, luckily they don’t go to the beach or tear around in the sand dunes or forest:) Oh, or male Boxers, females are OK. I’ve never noticed Beryl take a dislike to any dog but unless they’re Greyhounds she’s not really interested anyway. We hardly ever see any dogs now unless they’re visiting Greyhounds so I don’t have to worry about who Frankie likes or doesn’t:)

  15. Excellent point. I think it’s important to be mindful of what the dog needs and wants, and not what I want out of the exchange.

  16. You’re so right; our expectation that dogs should just get along with every other dog puts an unfair burden on them. Emmett gets along with everyone, human and dog alike! But… There is one dog in our therapy dog group who Emmett just does not like. I have no idea why, but whenever this little guy is around, Emmett averts his gaze, yawns, turns his back, the works! Once I realized what was going on, I started to make an effort to put space between them at group events. Who knows what causes one dog to dislike another, but I’m sure it’s just like that woman you described and the people you meet who just rub you the wrong way.

  17. Wow, great post! I hate when people run up to Max and start petting him when clearly he is not ok to be startled like this! He is very nice gentle and friendly more so with smaller kids but he is a bit skittish of new people so we really appreciate those who introduce themselves and ask permission to pet Max. I’ve also been guilty of it in the past but now am much more aware 😉 Great post!

  18. My Maya would love to meet Honey. My Pierson wouldn’t if he was on a leash. But in a setting where he didn’t have to be on a leash, he’d probably be okay with Honey. Isn’t it interesting how dogs can decide who they like and don’t like, just like people do?

  19. Very good points. Why should we expect our dogs to be perfect in relationships when we are not (and often for good reason?). I find it telling how Honey doesn’t like that one dog and cat; animals often know more than we about the aura/demeanor of other animals, including humans. While socialization is necessary for all of us, some simply do better than others, even without the boors who dive into personal space. Thank you!

  20. Great post! Prudence tolerates our house kitties, she will bark if startled by them ‘tho. She loves most people, and although she plays with other dogs in her doggy daycare and dog parks, she gets very territorial over her yard.
    I’ve learned so much from reading the pet blogs also. They’ve made me more aware of the care we need to take in approaching a strange dog. (Although, I’ve been known to speak to the dog before it’s companion first!)

  21. Great post Pamela!

    Since I started blogging I’ve learned a whole lot from this community. I will no longer rush up to a dog excited to meet them (and I will really try and restrain myself when I meet Honey, although I feel like I know her.)

    I also, whenever possible avoid other dogs on the trails or out walking. I’ve found that most people I meet that have dogs aren’t as aware of ‘dog signals’ and I prefer not to put my dog in a position to be labeled as something (s)he is not.

  22. Great post!

  23. I have also generally stopped greeting dogs on the streets since I started blogging. By that I mean that I am no longer one of those less informed pet owners that automatically assumes that some else’s dog wants to say hi to mine. I know Chester always wants to say hi. It even frustrates him when he really wants to but can’t and results in him barking and pulling…which makes him look bad. I don’t want him to miss out on socialization experiences but we generally wait until invited or ask if the other owner looks curious.

  24. I love this post, and it’s so very true. I have had a similar experience – as I’ve blogged about dogs, I’ve learned more and have adjusted my behavior accordingly. I do sometimes catch myself holding the pups to a standard higher than the one I set for myself, for sure.

    (Funny – in our old apartment complex, Bella hated this puggle that lived nearby. She would sit on our patio and ignore or wag at most dogs that went by, but she’d go nuts when she saw him.)