Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's Okay to Say No

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.


trillium said...

I read something the other day that might be helpful. A woman had taught her dog how to do high 5 and that was used for greeting unfamiliar people. Everyone knows high 5 and, I think, would intuitively kneel down so her paw could reach them. You could still let her decide if she wants to greet that person but it would set up a framework for more positive interactions. And plus didn't you just teach her high 5 or was that someone else?

Crystal said...

I taught her to wave, and she also knows "shake"- so very similar. And that's not really a bad idea- I might use that in the future for more controlled situations. Thanks for the suggestion!

andrea said...

as always well thought out and very sensible :)

Mickey said...

I used to hesitant giving people advice on dogs such as how to greet my dog. But I don't anymore. I never let kids pet my dogs without parents ok, I always tell them how to greet & to wait until my dog sits. And I never hesitant to say no if I don't feel good about the contact. I've learned this lesson the hard way. And I don't want people to have a negative encounter with my dog.

Crystal said...

One of the hardest things about giving people advice about how to greet my dog is that they want to touch her. And... well, there's not good place to touch her. The top of the head is out. She has a bad back, so that's out. And she's so short it's hard to get to the chest. I am liking the idea of asking her to give them a paw or high five when contact is inevitable.

megs said...

Have you done any targeting with Maisy?

I ask because I have a reactive/shy/fearful dog also, and I've been using targeting a lot to introduce her to new people -- I specifically use "Touch" and one that sort of morphed, which basically is "Go say hi!" which means go target the other person's hand.

I've found it helps keep the pressure off of her. It especially helps because people can't just stand there and let a dog sniff them, they feel like they have to do something, which usually means they feel like they have to pet the dog, even after they've been told not to. So, having them stick their hand out and ask for a touch gives them an active way to participate in meeting my dog, but still keeps things on her terms because it's a cue that she knows, and it doesn't involve petting.

Anyway, if Maisy knows "touch" you could have other people ask for one and people are usually pretty excited that a dog will do that over and over again that they almost forget about petting them to begin with!

Crystal said...

Maisy does know "touch," although her version does not actually involve touching- she tends to get within about 1/4 an inch and "air touch" and then whip back to me for a cookie.

I'm still not going to make her do it with strangers. I think touch or shake are good options for not-so-dog-savvy family or friends, though, so I'm glad for the suggestions!

Adrienne said...

As a bonus to the above, the "high five" gives her a way to keep people who are reaching for her head from actually touching it.


Ninso said...

I think letting some people pet Jun is one of the biggest reasons her fear has progressed to the point it has. She gave me subtle cues that she was uncomfortable and I ignored them. At this point, I am 100% committed to being her safe place and protecting her from contact with people, and right now, that means absolutely no petting from any strangers.

I was at Petsmart a few weeks ago and there was this lady who was shrieking (literally) about how nobody had "brought their dogs for her to pet" that day. And then this unfortunate dog walked in and she MAULED it!! She was practically screaming at it and all over the poor dog, and the dog jumped and cowered and then PEED it was so terrified!! And the poor owner was all "Minnesota Nice" about it. I think I would have punched that lady in the face. I have NO problem telling people to get away from my dog (and to get their dogs away from my dog), and that lady would have gotten more than an earful from me.

Ci Da said...

This is kind of the exact opposite situation, but my dog is a HUGE mooch. As a pup I encouraged her to accept food from strangers in an attempt to encourage her to be social. Unfortunately it worked a little too well, and my dog will sit glued to someone's side who she knows has treats. It was driving me crazy, but each time someone asked if she could have a cookie I said yes.

I think I was afraid of hurting people's feelings by asking them not to feed my dog. But it got to a breaking point where I decided to do away with this agreeableness and started saying no. I've had some people get offended, but the vast majority of people are very understanding. And, most importantly, it has drastically cut down on my dog's begging.

I've started genuinely thanking people who take the time to ask if they can feed her, and started telling people off for feeding without asking.

Anyways, I know begging is a far cry from reactivity, but your post persuaded me to comment. (I've been reading and enjoying your blog for a while now, but haven't commented yet.)

Anonymous said...

I had a fear aggressive Aussie, Comet. I would take him on my runs and sometimes stop to chat with people I knew. I would tell them DO NOT PET MY DOG, he is fearful of strangers and may bite. It usually took about 30 seconds before someone would lean over to pet him. He would growl, bark and jump at them. The person would say "oh I'm sorry, I forgot". WHAT! I just told you not 30 seconds ago not to.
People are as hard to condition as dogs. LOL.

Sophie said...

One thing I'll do with Lola, who is okay around strange people unless they try and force their attention on her, is say, if people ask 'can I see your dog?' - 'if she'll let you.' I ask them to just offer their hand, they can get a little chin-stroke in if she sniffs, but if not we move on.

I've had to break quite a few kids' hearts by saying, flatly, that they can't touch my puppy. She's still getting used to not barking at kids; I can't set her back by forcing their company on her.

OTOH, what I find works is nudging Jess, if I have her with me (she's constantly desiring to meet new people) and suggesting stroking her, instead.

Most people will respect us enough not to force their attention on the dogs, but sometimes people just swoop down and stroke Lola, which is frustrating.

Crystal said...

NINSO- Those people drive me CRAZY... right up there with the owners who allow their dogs to go several aisles away on a flexi. I love pet stores, and I hate them.

CI DA- Welcome out from lurkerdom! It's always fun to get to know someone who reads my blog. (Although, I totally get the lurker thing- I'm a horrible commenter myself.) Anyway, I think it's very interesting that having a very different dog led you to the same place anyway. People feeding other dogs without permission makes me even crazier than those who touch without permission- Maisy has food allergies.

ANONYMOUS- Completely agree. The dogs are easy. The people...

SOPHIE- So glad you're protecting Lola. I always feel bad saying bad to the kids who ask politely.

Kirby, CGC said...

Yeah it's a fine line to cross with our dogs. Kirby is usually fine with people. If I do stop and say hi to someone I make him sit by my side. One of two things will happen, he decides the person is okay and will go up by them or he decides he is okay and will go sniff the grass, either way it's his choice.

What I find more difficult is people with other dogs that say, "oh my dog just wants to say hi to your dog." Even when I say, "no, please keep your dog away, my dog doesn't like other dogs" they still keep coming towards Kirby. (IDIOTS!) So Kirby and I will keep on walking or walk away or turn around, at this point I don't care if I come across as rude, since they just opened that door anyways!

I agree, we have to do what we can to keep the dogs safe, the more positive experiences they have the better off it is going to be for them.

Kirby's mom

Crystal said...

Kirby, I've gotten pretty good at handling other dogs. All loose dogs that are unattended or out of control get sprayed with citronella. The rest, I say no and move away. If they insist (and that's rare for us) I tell their people that Maisy is sick. Kennel cough, contagious skin disease, whatever. It works.