When your dog may as well be a cat
Tough talk for your ego: Not every dog will greet you at the door
“Don’t you worry about a dog biting your face off?” the receptionist asked me as I leaned my elbow on the fitness studio’s front desk.
“Wow, you must go to weddings and ask about divorce lawyers, huh?” I responded, laughing.
He had a good reason for asking me this though. As a small child, he’d been bitten by his next door neighbor’s Chow Chow, and the dog really did bite his jaw. He ended up with several stitches and became scared of dogs. I could still see the mark on his chiseled jaw line, but it was faint.
A small part of me wished he’d never told me this story, especially considering a Chow Chow owner kept popping up in my dog walking app alerts that same week. I ignored every single alert from that point forward. I looked up the dog breed later on, and the adjective “aloof” just kept coming up. He compared a Chow Chow to a cat, and that sounded about right from pet websites.
In all fairness though, although cats are stereotyped as aloof, I’ve run into felines who are oddly clingy and liked me immediately — even if I didn’t like them. There are dogs who are “cat-like” and cats that are “dog-like,” and it’s entertaining to see. More importantly, if the owner chose this Chow Chow, somebody had to like this dog. While Chow Chows are ranked number 75 out of 197 breeds, that still leaves 122 other dogs they beat out.
Generally speaking, I can count less than a handful of dogs who genuinely just didn’t like me — even before March 2019 when I became a dog caregiver. Dogs usually like me (and vice versa) the way babies are magnets for baby people. About 75% of the dogs I meet act like my entire existence is to pet them 24/7. However, that still leaves another 25% who could take me or leave me. It doesn’t take me long to recognize which group has their paws in front of me.
Some really have run up to me and licked me right on the mouth — a pit bull actually, which completely goes against the personality that these are unfriendly, aggressive dogs. On the other hand, there was a Ridgeback/Pit mix who always wanted to sleep underneath my bed and follow me into every room, including sitting outside of the bathroom, but darted away if I tried to pet her more than a couple times.
Then there are those who sniff me and are wary at first — usually pets that came from kennels and foster homes and are worried that someone is coming to take them away from their pet families again. It’s as common for me to run into a dog that flies straight for the door and couldn’t care less about me petting him (or her) as it is for a dog to walk right up to me and flop right into my lap. And the antisocial dogs have often been the same breeds as the completely social dogs.
Even in the case of Retrievers — the consistently number one breed from the American Kennel Club — there are exceptions. Although I owned a Lab for 13 years and assumed they were the friendliest dog ever, in my early dog-walking months, I was introduced to an antisocial Golden Retriever. It took me an entire day for this dog to let me pet him, and I truly thought I was going to have to call the owner to say, “This is not working out.” (In all fairness, he was 15 years old and could not understand why I was strolling around his home. He was curious about why I kept feeding him on time, but otherwise just glared at me from the kitchen floor.) As unfriendly as he was, I really had no idea how I was going to put a leash on this dog. But he needed to go outside at some point. I waved the leash slowly and took baby steps toward him, until he allowed me to connect the leash to his collar.
After we walked around the neighborhood, we came home and he marched right back to the kitchen floor to stare at me again. Then clear out of nowhere, he stood up with purpose and walked to the living room where I was tapping away on my laptop. Looking from my face to my knee, he rubbed his head really firmly against my legs and got his fur all over my jeans. I stared curiously, wondering what the hell this meant. After a couple more rubs, I realized he was marking me to confirm I was “OK.” Then he went right back to the kitchen to sleep on that same cold, tile floor.
If people approached dogs the way substitute teachers approach new classes, there would be less room for miscommunication. If you’ve ever met a sub who walks into the room like (s)he owns the place, you know what I mean. In every classroom, there are new personalities. While the teacher has an assignment (i.e., to teach a particular lesson plan or test), that still means working with a new group. The same rules apply for dogs.
No matter the breed, the owner or the home, every dog is different — including dogs living in the same household. Approach each pup as individual personalities instead of a generic “dog,” and you may find the initial person-K9 introduction to be far easier to understand. And if you meet a cat-like dog, that means you’ll probably have some extra dog caregiving time on your hands. They’ll barely need you anyway. Give them some space until they think you’re cool enough to be around. And if not, don’t take it personal.