No, your dog cannot always say ‘hi’
Learning basic manners for socializing your dogs with strangers
I’d been given instructions for this Labrador Retriever mix, who could barely climb down steps without pausing a few beats: Please avoid letting him interact with other dogs. I thought, “No problem!” I know puppies can be a wee bit too playful and sometimes not know how to react to much larger dogs. And this dog was just a smidgen past the stage when you do more carrying than walking.
Since March of last year, I’ve quickly realized how much more ballsy people are around small dogs (give or take a few people who fear all dogs).
I’d been the owner of a Lab myself already, who grew to be around 60 pounds. And then came a German Shepherd who grew to be about the same weight but taller. When you saw me walking either of these two down the street, the last thing you wanted to do was give them a Michael Bloomberg Dog Greeting or run up with your dog to say “hi.”
I spent more time watching people beeline away from the sidewalk, walking in grass, dirt and sometimes crossing the street altogether. My dogs were not the type of dogs you would run up on. And that has been my biggest challenge as a dog walker. Since March of last year, I’ve quickly realized how much more ballsy people are around small dogs (give or take a few people who fear all dogs).
Socialization is key to make any dog into a reasonably friendly animal. It makes sense. But there are some common sense no-nos that some dog owners (or passersby) still have a tough time figuring out. If you fit the description, please read on.
You walk right up to other dog owners with your dog, blocking the sidewalk and/or pathway they’re on.
While you know your dog well, keep in mind that the dog walker (or owner) as well as the dog don’t know either you or your dog. Just as you wouldn’t block a human being’s pathway if you want to talk to this person on the street, treat dogs with the same courtesy. Yesterday, I was walking the Lab puppy (mentioned above) and stepped to the side when a dog who looked like a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy (at least a good 30 pounds already) walked by. Even though I stepped off the walkway, the dog walker/owner stopped perpendicular to the walkway. I paused and said, “Are you going to keep walking or …?” He said nothing at all, just stood still. I moved past the two, onto the grass, with the Lab puppy. He muttered, “My dog wants to say ‘hi’!” I responded, “Then you need to ask first. IT’S POLITE!”
If you want your dog to say “hi” to another dog, ask first instead of treating it like a demand. I wholeheartedly appreciate the walkers who ask, “Can (s)he say ‘hi’?” This gives me the opportunity to assess what type of dog I’m walking. Once I’ve narrowed down whether the dog is friendly enough to say “hi” and what his (or her) barking means, I slowly step up with my dog, watching how the two react. Keep in mind that your dog should be people friendly, too. Because if your dog has a problem with me, more than likely the dog I’m walking will instantly have a problem with both of you.
You reach down to pat a dog’s head — without permission — who looks friendly.
The first time I saw someone do this, my mind was blown. I was coming out of a side gate with a Poodle mix, and the dog paused on the street. This is usually a stubborn dog who prefers to plan the route in which we walk. I know this already, so I’ve set up certain routes that avoid him pulling too much. But two guys walking by us saw the dog pause and took that as a sign that the dog magically wanted to be their friend — even though the dog was not even looking at them. One guy reached down to pet the dog at the same time I reached for his collar. I swiped his hand and said, “Don’t touch my dog!” He walked on, mumbling to his friend. Somehow though, he decided his touchy-feely instincts were perfectly acceptable.
I pondered on whether that was the right move. For all I know, this could’ve been the owner’s neighbor. But it still struck me strange that the Poodle mix didn’t acknowledge him at all, so clearly the dog wasn’t impressed by him. Meanwhile, one of my regular dogs (a Cockapoo) has almost strong-armed me across the street to one woman at a stop sign and another packing up her car. From body language alone, I could clearly tell this Cockapoo knew these women. It made it much easier to ease up just from watching my dog’s reaction. (I found out later that the two women were the owner’s sister-in-law and biological sister.)
You try to take photographs of the dog.
There was a Great Pyrenees and Poodle mix who was clearly the talk of the neighborhood. Whether I walked out of the owner’s home at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m., someone shouted out the dog’s name. Another girl loudly screamed, “I love that dog!” But what really threw me off was a group of college girls with their phones out, all trying to take a photograph of the dog as we walked. It was the strangest paparazzi moment I’d ever experienced, and it instantly made me sympathize with celebrities. At 6 a.m., you just don’t want to hear people loudly screaming in your direction or following you down the street. I started walking behind the dog to make sure the group of girls couldn’t get a good shot of him. Eventually one screamed out, “Can we take a picture of that dog?” My response was an eye roll and a dart down a side street. Don’t ask for a photograph of a dog after you’ve taken it upon yourself to take 20 pics already. And definitely don’t annoy me before I’ve had coffee.
You walk right up to the dog walker and demand to know this person’s name.
Even in casual conversation, I would never just storm up to someone and say, “What’s your name?” without explaining why I want to know. This often happens with neighbors who are already familiar with the owner and/or the dog. This name demand is problematic on many levels. One, it’s none of your business what my name is. Two, the owner is the only person who needs to know what my name is. Three, if you think I’m dognapping this dog, chances are high that I’m going to give you a fake name anyway. Four, if your reason for asking is because you’re looking for a dog walker, dog boarder and/or house sitter, say that initially. This can help the person fully understand why you’re asking instead of feeling like she’s getting profiled in some way.
You try to feed a dog or have food on your hands.
I remember a lady laughing at two dogs I was walking — a Havanese and a Westie mix — who seemed pretty determined to jump on her. She was on her phone and squatted down. Of course with the dog jumping, that clearly meant this dog was friendly. But when the dog fiercely started licking her fingers, I thought it was just plain odd. She laughed and said, “You smell corn beef on my hands, don’tcha?” While corn beef is fine for a dog (without all the seasoning, bread, etc.), you should let the owner know if you have something on your hands that a dog can ingest. Why? You don’t know what this dog is allergic to already, or what kind of hell that the owner will have to deal with later. And guess what? Meat could be one of those dog food allergies. According to WebMD, the most common allergens for dogs “are beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb, soy, pork, rabbit, and fish.”
Dog walkers and owners know you mean no harm. We clearly realize that you love dogs. Hell, we do too, otherwise we wouldn’t be walking this dog in the first place. But try to mind your manners when you approach a stranger. By doing so, you make it easier to want to meet you to say “hi” too.