I've been around this block before,
both literally and figuratively.
Now that the weather's nicer, Maisy and I are starting to encounter other people while we're out on walks. I wouldn't mind this except it presses the issue: do I let people greet her?
When Maisy was younger, I allowed it. For one thing, I was a bit too Minnesota Nice to say no, and besides, it was good socialization, right? As I became more dog-savvy, I started to realize that Maisy didn't particularly like to say hi. My trainer taught me the importance of protecting my dog, and so I started to say no. In fact, I learned to be downright rude if need be, holding up my hand like a traffic cop and loudly saying “STOP!”
Since Maisy's been on medication, though, her reactions have changed. She's seemed more social. She's been fine around scary dudes and unfamiliar dogs. As a result, I've been watching her body language and making greeting decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Last week this was put to the test... and I think I failed. Here's what happened: Maisy and I were out for a walk. She was in high spirits and pretty exuberant. A group of pre-teens was walking towards us, and when our paths met, one was clearly interested in meeting her. For her part, Maisy was soft and wiggly, leaning towards him inquisitively, and so I allowed him to pat her.
Maisy was not pleased. She squealed and rushed away, tail tucked between her legs. I felt awful. How could I have read her so wrong?
In truth, I don't think I did. I think she just expected something else. The young boy did everything wrong- he leaned over her, trying to pet her on the head- but he didn't know that dogs don't like that. The average person has no idea how scary this is to a dog. Maisy may have wanted to say hi, but she didn't want to say hi to a rude primate.
I should have been proactive and told him how to greet her. I should have asked him to kneel sideways, let her sniff his palm, and then stroke her chest. But it all happened so fast that I didn't have time. It wasn't Maisy's fault, it wasn't the boy's fault, and it wasn't even my fault, not really.
Still, it was my responsibility, and I failed. I'm kind of glad I did, though, because after I got over my initial feelings of shame and guilt, it helped me figure out how to answer people when they ask, “Can I pet your dog?” I'm not going to squirrel her away in a protective bubble, never allowed to meet anyone. I don't think that's any healthier than forcing her to greet everyone we cross paths with. But I can't count on her to tell me when it's okay, and I certainly can't count on the general public to know how interact with dogs politely. From here on out, my rule is that if Maisy's on leash, she will only greet people that I know are dog-savvy. If she's off leash, she can greet people if she chooses, but I won't ask her to. She can approach- or not- by her own free will.
In other words, I realized that it's okay to say no. It's okay to say no to the people who want to say hi, it's okay to say no to Maisy's wiggly body language, and it's okay to say no to myself when I wish that she could greet strangers. I don't have a normal dog, after all, and you know what? That is okay, too.