How to advocate for your dog
Let’s talk about advocating for your dog!
We’ll start with “drive-by” pettings. For me, these are the most annoying, and the rudest. You’ve got your dog nicely settled, the conversation is flowing and you’re just about to enjoy your lunch, or that nice glass of wine with your pal when all of a sudden, without even acknowledging your presence, someone barges straight into your personal space, bends down and starts cooing at your dog and trying to pet them. What’s that all about? I equate this with the type of person who, when they meet a pregnant woman, insists on touching her belly. It’s unacceptable. Just as my body is my property, so (under UK law, at least) is my dog. And without my permission, you don’t have the right to touch my property.
So, how can you prevent drive-bys? The answer is: with a little situational awareness and a soupçon of strategy. I did a brief video some months back about situational awareness, which I’ll repost for reference shortly. Situational awareness is something you should have at all times, irrespective of whether you have a dog or not. It’s something we teach at security seminars. Be aware of who is around you. Make yourself aware of the location of all the exits in any building you enter in case something should happen and you need to leave quickly. Be aware of who is entering and who is leaving. Don’t sit with your back to a door or doorway. It’s a very simple habit to get into, and to stay in. And if you do it with your dog at your side, you should be able to prevent most drive-by pettings. If you see someone across the room trying to engage with your dog, don’t make eye contact with that person; ignore them. Focus on your dog, get them to engage with you, and then reward them for the engagement, thereby reinforcing the message: ignore everything and focus on ME. If someone is moving towards you and you think they might show an interest in your dog, move position if you have to, so that to get to your dog the would-be petter will have to go through you. Again: don’t engage with them. Don’t make eye contact. That’s not being rude. That’s just enjoying your time and your privacy. Nobody has the right to intrude on those. And if you’re going to an establishment that is dog-friendly, choose where you sit based on how accessible your dog will be to other people. I personally like corner tables away from high foot-traffic areas. I put the dog either in the corner, or underneath the table, making it really difficult for drive-bys to get to. And just like my former boss used to say: never apologize, never explain. You don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why they can’t pet your dog. Too few people these days have been brought up with proper manners. Respect other people’s boundaries. Mind your own business. Live and let live. Smile sweetly, but don’t be a walkover.
The same premise applies when out walking your dog on leash. Keep your leash short. Not tight; short. When my hand is on my dogs’ leashes, it is right up by the clasp, close to their necks. Not only does this give me instant full physical control if I need it, but it keeps the dog where it is safe: in a nice, tight Heel position, right by my side. If someone steps up to me to pet my dog, I can move in any direction I choose to keep myself between them and my dog. Dogs aren’t the only ones who respond to spatial pressure. If someone keeps moving towards your dog and you keep adjusting your position subtly but decisively in response, they’re going to pick up on that pretty damned quickly. Trust me; I do it all the time. It makes people subconsciously feel slightly uncomfortable, and they stop trying to get to the dog. When I do it, I’m always civil, and engaged with the person in front of me. I don’t feel embarrassed or guilty if they seem uncomfortable. I pretend that I haven’t even noticed their insistent attempts to pet my dog, and carry on with the conversation. Never, ever feel guilty about advocating for your dog. After all, your dog is the one you chose to share your life with, not the person standing talking to you on the street.
And last but not least: advocating for your dog in your own home. This is probably the hardest one of all, because the people coming to your home most frequently are your friends, family and the people you know. They want to, “Say hi,” to the dog. They don’t listen when you ask them not to pet your dog when she’s excited because, “It’s okay, I don’t mind!” – not understanding that by encouraging the dog to jump up on them, the dog will expect to be able to jump on anyonewho gives them attention. So if you don’t want to go through the rigmarole of having the same conversation with the same person (who never listens), time and time again, don’t! If you haven’t yet trained a reliable Place command, crate the dog. Use a tie-back. Have the dog leashed and use the visit as a training opportunity to do the “Sit on the Dog” exercise. For anyone who doesn’t know what “Sit on the Dog” is, I’ll post a link to the video separately. As with any other situation requiring you to advocate for your dog, physical intervention or restraint is the most effective tool. People – as much as we love them – don’t listen. My dogs are trained to go to, and stay on, their beds whenever the doorbell rings or we have visitors. However, I can’t account for, or control, what visitors will do once they’re inside my home. So the dogs go to their crates, with a tasty treat or bone. I don’t have to supervise, and can give my undivided attention to my visitors.
At the end of the day, all of the above are about how you control your environment, not about how you try to control the actions of other people. The former is far, far easier than the latter.
To end with, I’m going to make a heartfelt plea! As Elle Driver says in “Kill Bill”, “Now, you should listen to this, cause this concerns you.” Dogs are not stuffed toys. Other people’s dogs are not there for your pleasure and entertainment (although this goes for any animal, really). If you want a dog to pet, get your own. If an owner has invested time, energy, and money into training their dog to be properly socialized i.e. ignoring everything around it, you’re being thoughtless and inconsiderate – whether you mean to or not – by trying to get that dog’s attention, and you’re undoing all the hard work the owner has put in. That’s not cool. Please stop doing it. However, if you take the time to engage with the dog’s owner and show an interest in them and their dog then chances are, they may be happy for you to interact with their dog. And if they aren’t, there are a million and one reasons why, ranging from fearfulness, to reactivity, to the dog being a service animal in training. Please respect that, and the fact that they don’t owe you – a perfect stranger – an explanation for anything. Thank you for your understanding!
So, get out there, enjoy every moment with your precious dogs, and don’t be afraid to advocate for them and for yourself!