Would you walk up to a stranger in the street and touch their face or ruffle their hair? Probably not! However, some people think it’s acceptable to walk up to a dog they’ve never met, and in an attempt to 'make friends', they thrust their hands in its face, or go over the top of its head to ruffle its neck? And more importantly, why do owners allow this to happen? Is it because we feel it’s impolite to stop people from petting our dogs? Or is it because we feel our dogs should tolerate it?
My answer is always the same and refers back to my initial question…. If a complete stranger came up to you and ruffled your hair or stoked your cheek, it would make the majority of us very uncomfortable and at the very least, may result in us raising our voices. And if that stranger were to do this to your child, then raised voices would be the least of their worries. The fact is, the majority of us wouldn’t just stand there and tolerate it, so why do we expect our dogs to? The problem lies not with the dog, but with us humans.
Your dog is communicating to you all the time, however because their language is silent and subtle, we tend to miss what they are saying. Long before a stranger reaches out to touch your dog, he or she will have already communicated if this is acceptable or not. They may pull backwards and try to hide behind you, they may freeze on the spot, their ears might flatten, their lips may curl, they may make grumbling noises, they might wet themselves; all these are signs of the dog saying, “do not touch me”.
Your dog looks to you for safety and guidance, but if you’re allowing someone to touch them, when your dog has communicated to you that they are not comfortable with this, it starts to breakdown the trust between you and your dog, and eventually your dog will decide that it needs to look after itself and will retaliate accordingly.
There are so many people out there that don’t respect a dog’s personal space and therefore, as a dog owner, it is your job to help them understand. If your dog were to nip someone, be in no doubt that the person would be telling you that your dog is dangerous and should be muzzled, or worst still reported. So don’t give them this ammunition, read your dog’s body language, and tell the offending human ‘NO, please do not touch my dog’ and although this may feel rude, keep in mind that you are looking out for your dog, just like you would a child.