“Is your dog friendly?!”
I hate this question.
You get the sense that you have two options. One, say “yes” and agree to whatever situation the asker is trying to put your dog in, or two, say “no” and look like an irresponsible dog owner with an out of control, mean dog.
Let’s think about this question from another perspective. If someone were to ask me if I am friendly, my first response would probably be, “Yes, of course!”.
But to be 100% honest, no, I’m really not. I’m generally polite, I don’t go out of my way to harm others or to be rude. I comport myself in ways that are socially acceptable (generally).
But I’m not a hugger. I don’t like crowds. If I don’t know you, I really don’t want to touch you or let you in my personal space. That’s just my personality. I have a friend who LOVES people. She likes to meet new people, she hugs strangers, she is welcoming and social….pretty much my complete opposite.
So should I never go in public because I’m not “friendly”? Is my friend a better person because she is “friendly”? If a stranger comes up to me in Costco and touches my face, hair or clothes, am I rude for stepping away and asking them not to touch me?
There’s a lot of conversation these days that is focused on the idea of consent. And rightly so! A successful society is built on respect and consent. Don’t touch people if they don’t want to be touched. Don’t force people into situations that they’re uncomfortable with. One person’s comfort zone will be wildly different than another’s and we need to accept that.
So why is it that when it comes to situations with our dogs, we tend to throw out the last 30 years of social progress? I can tell you that I’m not comfortable with a situation and that’s ok, but if I’m not comfortable with my dog being in a certain situation, now he’s not friendly?
I feel that in today’s pet climate, particularly in the US, people have this notion that all dogs must be this homogeneous “friendly” ideal. If your dog doesn’t have a “happy-go-lucky, wag while they’re kicking you, submissive” attitude, they’re “aggressive”.
And if they’re “aggressive” then it must be your fault because, as you know, “It’s all in how you raise them!” This is completely unrealistic. Behavior is a complex mixture of genetics, environment and training. Some dogs are working through past experiences, some dogs haven’t been trained to react appropriately, and some dogs are naturally aloof. And we need to accept that.
I can tell you right now, that if you’re a stranger and you come into my house unannounced, you will have two righteously indignant Cani Corso barking in your face. It’s not in their nature to sit back and accept strangers. There are some people they’re just never going to trust, and that’s ok.They need to be polite and well trained, but I can’t force them to like a situation or a person.
If you haven’t put in the training with my dogs, they’re not going to listen to you, and they’re not going to just accept you. If I’m home and I say you’re ok, they’ll sit on your feet and beg you to pet their rears, but don’t be fooled – if you come into the house uninvited while they’re home alone, it’s unlikely they’ll let you in. So when I’m choosing a pet sitter, I’m going to make sure they’re qualified and have experience with the breed. I’m going to have to turn down people who offer, and that’s ok. Again, it’s about consent.
If I decide I want dogs that are generally friendly with strangers and love people, I can’t just buy another Cane Corso and figure I’ll train it differently than my other two. I won’t buy a Black Russian Terrier or a Boerboel either. I’m much better off with a Golden Retriever or a Labrador. And even then, there is variation in the breed. I would need to talk to breeders and specifically tell them what I’m looking for in the puppy.
And this is why breeds are so important. The breed of dog that’s a good fit for me, isn’t necessarily the breed that is the best fit for you. And if you’re looking to buy from a rescue or shelter, you need to try to choose a dog that will be a good fit. Do your research and remember, just because you love hugging people and your dog loves to play with other dogs, doesn’t mean I want a hug and it doesn’t mean my dogs need to play with your dogs.
Please be courteous respectful of other people’s comfort zones – even when it comes to their dogs. If you’re in an off leash area and you see someone call their dog and leash him, please do the same. Then ask, “Do you mind if our dogs interact?” and if they say “No.”‘ please remember: No means no, and that’s ok.
In my experience, if someone asks me if my dog is friendly and I respond with, “I would rather he didn’t interact with your dog.” I’m often met with, “Well, if your dog isn’t friendly, he shouldn’t be in public” But if I replied with, “He’s a rescue and was abused for years, and he’s scared of other dogs so I’d rather not.” I’m suddenly a saint, blessed with glorious purpose.
We live in a culture where to some, it is more acceptable for a dog to have been abused and be terrified of other dogs and people, than for someone to have a purpose bred dog who is reacting to a situation in a manner consistent with their breed’s correct temperament.
Wouldn’t you prefer it if every dog was purpose bred and chosen by educated, responsible owners who did their research and selected a dog who was the right fit for them?