Imagine you’re on a bus or shopping. A stranger walks up to you and does one of the following:
- sniffs your neck while asking about your perfume,
- puts their fingers in your afro, or
- touches your pregnant belly.
What’s the right response?
An indignant yell? Running as fast as you can in the opposite direction? A slap? All three?
And if we agree that it’s okay to call people on their obnoxious behavior, why do we expect our dogs to tolerate the same or worse?
In other words, why should I yell at my dog because your dog is a jerk?
People Dogs Are Just Rude
Have you ever read something that changed your life?
Suzanne Clothier’s “He Just Wants To Say Hi” transformed my understanding of dogs. It is the best article I’ve ever read about dog behavior.
Clothier starts her article by describing an imaginary event where a stranger starts groping her on a bus bench while her husband ignores what’s going on. When finally pushed too far, Clothier lashes out at the obnoxious man. Her husband responds by dragging her off the bench and yelling at her for her rude response.
And yet haven’t many of us done something similar when our dogs snarked at someone else’s dog who was “just trying to say hi?”
But who’s really the rude one?
Is it that goofy, off-leash Lab mix who comes running up to your dog while you’re walking on the beach? Or is it your dog who after pulling back her ears, looking to you for help, and curling up a lip finally lunges and barks to warn off the “friendly” dog?
Not Reactive, Just Smart
Occasionally someone will describe their dog as reactive but I don’t believe them.
I don’t think a dog is reactive when he snarks at another dog for coming up in his face on a walk. I think he’s smart.
A smart dog knows rude behavior when he sees it. And he won’t tolerate it.
Some dogs just want to be left alone while they’re doing something important.
I’m an extrovert. And even I understand that.
Leave Me Alone
I love people. I love my husband. But I’m a little touchy when I’m writing.
Once an idea flows, I don’t want to lose it.
I’m kinda ashamed to admit it. But when my husband comes in to the office while I’m writing and kisses me on the head, I say to myself, “Okay, are we done being affectionate here? (I waiting to read all the angry comments from single people who rightly complain that I’m a total female dog for not appreciating the love of a good man. I know. I deserve it.)
If he asks me a question, I’ll answer. After the third question, I get a little prickly and tensely remind him that I’m working here.
If I were a dog who didn’t want to be bothered by another dog, I’d start by looking away. I might move my seat. Follow it up with curling my lip, give a little warning growl, and finally pull on my leash to give a warning snap.
So is your dog really reactive? Or do they just want to be left alone?
My Rude Dog
That friendly dog who just wants to say hi but is really being rude? That was Honey.
As a pup, she wanted to greet and play with every dog she met.
It wasn’t too big a problem when she was a puppy. Most (but not all) dogs will tolerate behavior from a puppy that they would never accept from an adult dog. But we needed to teach Honey that she should wait for an invitation before jumping on the face of another dog.
We started by taking her for play dates with other puppies and older dogs with good communication skills. By scuffling and growling and being warned off, Honey learned to read dog body language. And figured out how to read signals that she needed to rein in her enthusiasm.
We simply added to the education other dogs gave Honey by rewarding her for staying calm and polite near other dogs. And taught her to follow our directions to break off play when things got too exciting.
I just want to be sure that no one ever yells at their dog because my dog is being a jerk.
Who’s The Jerk
While you’re out and about watching dogs, try to spot the jerk.
Which dog is invading the personal space of other dogs? Approaching them head on? Keeping a stiff and upright posture?
And which dog is hanging back, looking away, licking her lips, trying to get her person to step in and deal with this jerky dog so they don’t have to?
When you learn how to spot the jerk, you understand dog speak in a whole new way. And hopefully you’ll never find yourself yelling at your dog because someone else’s dog is a jerk.
Get the PDF of Suzanne Clothier’s “He Just Wants To Say Hi.” I’ve been tempted to put copies in my backpack and hand them out to people on walks.
Your Turn: How do you respond when your dog snarks at another dog?