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Being a Politically Correct Responsible Dog Trainer Has a Price: Humiliation

July 5, 2009

What a lovely weekend it’s been here in Ventura. Just got home from an ocean swim with my friends Terri and Mary, along with the other great folks of the Rincon Tri Club. Nice way to start a Sunday…I thought it would be even more fun if Nolan and Poncho came down so we could practice some loose leash walkingalong the promenade together. Unfortunately it ended with a stranger, poor communication, and me being the target of unintended hurt feelings.

I know my dog. I know Poncho; what triggers cause which effects. Trucks = increase predatory drive. Loud noises (e.g. fireworks) = barking. Even with the socialization exercises I’ve done with him, just like the ones I have my private dog training clients and puppy and adult dog training class students do, it seems sometimes tall men wearing hats and sunglasses approaching head on or “sneaking” in from behind to steal a quick pet can sometimes result in a redirected snark… But hey, if someone did this to me, I’d snark too!

So here I was, with Poncho, standing on the bike path. Poncho was doing his doggy thing, sniffing around some grass and pole. A gentleman wearing sunglasses and a hat came walking by to cross the street and asked “Is that a Chihuahua?” “Yes, he is part Chihuahua.” This stranger then started to reach out to touch Poncho, without asking first, while Poncho was still sniffing.

Poncho didn’t see this person, or at least didn’t take notice of him. I mentioned that sometimes Poncho will turn around and snark if he isn’t expecting it, and doesn’t know the person. “So, please don’t touch him. I wouldn’t want you to get bitten.” To me I was being very responsible, concerned with the welfare of the public, and politically correct. I even apologized for not allowing him to pet him. I certainly didn’t mean to insult him.

So off we went, while this other person went on his way. Well, the next thing you know this stranger is driving by, and yells out a phrase that was quite rude, insulting, and too offensive to post in this G-rated family friendly dog training blog. Needless to say, I was quite exasperated and downright hurt.

By this time I’ve gotten over it. I do understand it’s not me, but the other person. Insecurity? Poor coping skills? Would I have done anything differently? Hmm, maybe would have managed my environment by walking faster – but I didn’t want to ruin Poncho’s sniffing time! Obviously this person hadn’t learned to ask before doing. This is one reason I include the following statement in my class policies at the inquisitive canine dog training studio:

  • Approaching and petting dogsSome dogs are not friendly toward or comfortable around people they do not know. Please do not approach or pet any other dogs in class. If your child wants to meet another dog, they may do so after obtaining permission from the dog’s owner and only during non-classroom teaching time.

I always ask dog guardians if I may pet their dog BEFORE actually doing it! Not while I’m reaching out. It’s always best to ask first. You never know what might trigger a dog. It’s also important to read a dogs body language, and what they might be communicating. They may be “saying” please don’t touch me, or “Yes, please come say hello to me.”

Dogs are living breathing creatures that have their own likes and dislikes. As individuals we don’t like strangers coming up to us and touching us without asking…and even if they do ask, we might not want them to. Parents of human children don’t allow strangers to just reach out and touch their kids, why do we treat our dogs differently? Is it just because they’re dogs they should like it? I think not.

Situational awareness, being politically correct, respecting the safety and welfare of the public, and respecting the safety and welfare of your own dog all add up to being a responsible pet guardian! Too bad there are those times when it doesn’t go over well…but that’s human behavior for ya.


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