Is He/She Friendly?
How many times are you out with your dog and someone asks, “is he friendly?” I always give them a big smile and thank them for asking before I reply. My reply is that he enjoys being pet under his chin and on his shoulder, but he does not like to be hugged.
With my last dog who was extremely social and enjoyed meeting new people as much as he enjoyed meeting new dogs, I never gave this question a second thought. I proudly answered, he loves to meet new people and if they had kids with them, I made sure I added that he is great with kids.
That is what it was like for me for 10.5 years. Then I got a dog who was 2.5 years old and did not spend those 2.5 years being hugged and touched and played with all throughout his puppyhood. He was by no means fearful, but he was uncomfortable with new people and new situations. He simply was not use to people coming into his personal space.
For the dog owners that have a dog that does not love attention from new people, it can be hard to know how to reply. You want to say that he is friendly, because, well he is. After all, he probably greets you each day with enthusiasm and joy. He is a happy, friendly and adjusted dog. That is as long as his routine is not broken he is a friendly dog.
It feels awful to say, “he prefers not to be pet,” and to feel like you have just replied that your dog is mean or not social or even that it is poorly trained. Notice I did not reply that “No, he’s not friendly,” because I try to temper my feelings more than the person asking. Most people take that answer and are okay not petting your dog. However, there are those few that are sure that they have special dog whisperer powers and insist on touching. Be your dog’s advocate and be firm in your stance that you and your dog prefer the stranger not pet him.
With you being the one who now seems unfriendly, you put your dog in a situation where he does not have to demonstrate that he does not like to be touched by those he does not know. You may even want to go on to educate the person by pointing out signs your dog is giving that he is uncomfortable. Say things like, do you see how he ducks or turns his head or moves away. Or if you can read your dog well, you may want to point out his baseline posture, changes in his eyes, ears, mouth and tail carriage.
Remember we all need to follow the signals the dog is giving us. If an owner says, “he would rather not be pet today,” then smile and say “okay, no problem!” and move along. Just be genuinely happy that this very lucky dog has an owner who is advocating for his comfort and wellbeing.