Camerado! I give you my hand!

Camerado! I give you my hand!

Allons! The road is before us!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Sense of Entitlement

Quick quiz: you are walking down the street and someone (a stranger to you) with a dog is walking towards you. The dog is calm and appears well-behaved, and both he and the owner are minding their own business. You love dogs, of course (yours is not with you at the moment). What should you do?

A: Start squealing in a high-pitched baby voice at the dog while moving towards it with your hands outstretched. If it's small enough, go right over and pick it up, then kiss it. If it’s a big dog, bend over it and kiss it.

B: Start cooing in a sing-song voice, stop, bend over and wait for the dog to get close, then try to pet it.

C: Squat down, talking sweetly to the dog, and wait until it comes to you, then let it sniff your hand, and pet it.

D: Ask the owner if you can pet the dog, and then do C.

E: None of the above. It's not your dog, and you don't have a right to pet it. Smile at the owner, say, "cute puppy!" and continue walking.

Did you choose (D)?

The correct answer is (E).

What? Did I just tell you to pretty much ignore a dog on the street, even though it's adorable and you clearly love dogs?

Sigh. I did.

Would you walk up to a stranger and pet their child on the head? Would you touch them? Would you walk up and grab someone's bike, or phone, or dress, and admire it? If the person with the dog was walking without his dog, would you stop him, touch his arm, and interact with him, just because? Why not?

Because it would be rude.

When you go to pet someone's dog, someone who has not explicitly asked you to interact with the dog, you are making an assumption, and you put the owner in a tough spot. If they refuse you, you will think them rude. Why is that?

Dogs are not public property, despite the apparent eagerness of many to be social. If you would feel hurt that someone wouldn't allow you—lover of all dogs--to pet their pup, you need to look at your assumptions--and your desires. 

Because wanting to pet that dog is your desire, your want. It's all about you. It doesn't take the dog, or his human, into account at all.

Just because your dog loves people, and just because you love dogs, that doesn't grant you the right to interact with others' dogs without explicit permission.

If their dog is sketchy around strangers, they don't want you to try and pet it (and you shouldn't want to!). Telling them, "It's ok! Dogs love me!" as you approach and as their dog clearly turns away from you (or growls or barks at you) is not OK. Continuing to approach a dog that is barking in a threatening manner, instead of backing off, is not OK.

If their dog is in training, they may be concentrating on that, and following the advice of a professional to prevent others from touching the dog (I give this advice a lot to my students).

If their dog is too social, and will jump all over you, they may be embarrassed about this and trying not to encourage it. Even the dog that is clearly straining to be petted belongs to someone who may not want him to be doing that.

Please don't put people in an awkward position. You would blame them if the dog bit you (or scratched you in his exuberance), when in fact it would be your fault if you invaded his space. Some dogs just are not social with strangers, and you believing yourself “good with dogs” doesn't imbue you with some magical force that makes it OK. In fact, if you are actually “good with dogs,” you’d never try to pet one you didn’t know—especially one who was clearly sending signals that he didn’t want to be petted.

(People who are “good with dogs” don’t typically announce this fact. They act in ways that dogs understand to be non-threatening. It’s not magic—it’s experience. And practice.)

I don't allow people to pet my dogs when I'm out. They don't care for attention from strangers, and often, we are in training. I never foist myself upon dogs I see in passing. I smile and compliment them, and go home to love on my dogs, because each of us knows and trusts the other. I love dogs, yes, but because I love them, I don’t have a searing need to interact with every one I see--especially uninvited. Self-control around dogs takes some practice, but you can do it.

I once entered a pet supply store with my dog, who I was training. I needed to buy something, and I wanted to work my dog around the distractions of the store while I was doing it. Everything was fine, and my dog was doing quite well, until one of the clerks spotted us. She literally started squealing and following us around the store (I started moving quickly away, on purpose) with her hands outstretched.

My dog was looking to me for help to get him away from this crazy person, and I could not shake her. I finally had to stop, put my dog in a stay behind me, and block her approach like a soccer goalie. She finally asked if she could touch him, and I said no, not rudely, but with conviction. She got her feelings hurt, sure enough (not my intention at all), and probably told her co-worker how rude I was as we left without buying anything, both of us breathing a sigh of relief upon stepping out into the sunlight.

My job was to protect my dog, and I did.

NOTE: I’m not an absolutist. Life is full of shades of gray. Many dogs love people, and want to approach them, and belong to people who are trying to socialize them, and can handle your greetings properly. Many people don’t mind if you pet their dogs. In fact, some may ask you to. Some may even become offended if you don’t touch their dogs! If you meet such people with such dogs, see option D above. And enjoy!

Otherwise, please keep moving.

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