Not long ago, Bailey was at his peak cuteness with his fur just long enough to have a bit of curl but not too long to get matted. He looked like a little lamb that many people want to run their fingers through his woolly coat.
Due to his look, Bailey often gets comments such as “Ohhhh, cute dog!”, “He looks like a little lamb.” or “He looks like a teddy bear!”. Bailey’s appearance draws people’s attention but this is also his Kryptonite. He hates being stared at or touched by strangers.
That day, as we were sniffing the good scents in the neighborhood, a person was walking pass us and made a comment “Oh, he looks like a teddy bear!”. Just to be polite, I replied with “Thank you” and was in a hurry to get Bailey moving while he stopped and sniffed the flower. Just as I expected but failed to prevent, the person stopped and reached her hand out to stroke Bailey’s back. Bailey ignored her for the most part but the hand was on his back for longer than he would tolerate so he growled at her. The person was surprised by his response and said “Oh, I guess he just realized he was harassed by a very nice person.” I gave no comment at that moment, however, I was upset with the common expectation that many people think a cute fluffy dog should accept stranger’s “friendly touch” without giving his consent.
As much as we want to be cuddly with a cute fluffy dog, it is not the polite way to interact with a dog you don’t know. Any dog, cute or not, fluffy or not, does NOT need to accept a forced interaction from a stranger. A dog is not a teddy bear and definitely not YOUR teddy bear. When you extend your “friendly” hand into a dog’s space, you are actually invading his personal space. For a dog who has no relationship with you, doesn’t know you, that is simply a harassment that he can’t refuse. When he uses his voice or his teeth to show his discomfort, he’s then labeled as “aggressive” or “mean”.
When you see a cute little girl running around with her parent, will you go up and touch the little girl without her consent? Will you ask the parent’s permission before you interact with the little girl? I am sure you’d get the permission before you have physical contact with the little girl. It is the same with dogs.
What should you do when you see a cute dog that you really want to cuddle and put your hands on?
First, keep your hands in your pockets. Keep your distance and admire that cuteness from distance with your eyes. Remember, don’t stare directly into the dog’s eyes.
Second, ask the owner if it’s OK to interact with the dog. Once you get the permission, you should follow the owner’s instruction on how to interact. If the owner didn’t give you instruction, you should use these non-threatening poses to invite the dog to you:
- Get to dog’s nose level. Kneel to the dog’s level if it is a small size dog so you don’t encourage the jumping.
- Let the dog come to you. When dog approaches you, keep your body relaxed and neutral. Don’t reach your hand out just yet. Let the dog sniff you first while you are remaining neutral with your position.
- Don’t extend your hand out for the dog to sniff. That extended hand can be seen as intrusive. Instead, put your hands on the sides of your body, or put them on your legs. Let the dog sniff them first.
- When the dog shows interest and wants more interaction from you, then you may do a gentle scratch under the chin or chest for 3 seconds. Then stop. This gives the dog a chance to decide if he wants more from you. If he wants more, he’ll lean his body into you to solicit more interaction. If he doesn’t want more, you give him a chance to move away without barking or snapping at you. No one gets hurt physically or emotionally.
- Never lean over a dog, crowd a dog or put your hand over a dog’s head. All these postures are threatening to a dog. If you see a dog shying away from your extended hand, don’t continue your approach. Simply stop and give him space.
- If the dog likes treats, with owner’s permission in case of food allergy, and toss a few yummy treats BEHIND the dog. This gives the dog no pressure to come to a scary stranger for food. Once the dog finds you giving no pressure but bringing yummy treats, he’ll be more relaxed and willing to come near you.
The very last thing you want to do is to hug tightly or squeeze the dog you don’t know. Remember, all dogs have teeth and they will use them when necessary.
Now, show your friendliness via your body language in a way a dog understands. Then you can make friendly interaction with each other.