I don’t post that much about Pip here, but he is a beloved member of the Mush Puppy family and today I feel compelled to make a plea on behalf of his sanity. See, Pip is shy. And for some reason, it is very often very difficult for John and Jane Q Alldogsloveme to accept that some dogs experience Stranger Danger.
His very happiest place on this planet is our dog park. It’s one of my very happiest places, too. It’s not the “typical” dog park, it’s about 5 acres of wooded river bottom on the Mississippi River. Here’s how it looked today:
I’m sure that part of the reason why he loves it so much is that it’s a veritable sensory wonderland for a dog and a great place for a nice hike; the physical and mental stimulation is a heady combination. But I’m convinced that part of the reason he loves it so much is that he is in complete control of whether he interacts with strangers or not. And most of the time, he chooses not.
For some reason, many people view other people’s dogs at a dog park as public property. And for some reason, many people take it very, very personally if a dog wants nothing to do with them. Please, J&JQ ADLM, try to keep in mind that there are really only two things you need to remember about Pip and dogs like him:
1. If he wants attention from you, he will approach you.
2. If he doesn’t approach you, leave him alone.
That’s it. That really is it, there’s nothing more. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s not a reflection on your value as a human being or a dog owner/trainer/whatever you do with dogs. I’ve seen him instantly take a shine to people I thought he would be scared of but side-eye and chuff at people who seem pretty innocuous and/or have good dog manners. I have been taking this dog to the dog park for nine years, and I still have no idea what his criteria are for judging strangers, and frankly I don’t care. I don’t like to socialize with everyone I meet, and I don’t expect him to, either.
It doesn’t matter if he’s a rescue, if he was abused, what kind of training I’ve done, what kind of training you think I should do, if ALLDOGSLOVEYOU, if you have some super secret trick up your sleeve, if you’re a good person, if you’re a bad person, if you have treats, if you have a toy, or if you know another dog just like him. Whatever perceived slight my dog has burdened your soul with is in your head. Your self-esteem should not hinge on whether or not my dog likes you. It’s not about your feelings, it’s about HIS.
This is his face that the few people in this world he adores get:
And this is the face of suspicion. In this case, it was a camera timer. But this is probably the face you’re going to get even if ALLDOGSLOVEYOU. Sorry, not sorry.
It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him. And it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with me for letting him be himself. And I am too old and jaded to care about your feelings more than I care about my own dog’s feelings. So for the love of god, if you recognize yourself here please leave shy dogs alone. There are plenty of not-shy dogs in the world for you to pet.
Thank you for writing this. My shy dog is, unfortunately my first shy dog. She had to suffer through my mistaken belief that strangers giving her treats would help her shyness, but of course it created conflict instead. Learning to say no when people ask to molest–sorry pet her has made her feel safe. It makes me feel very sad that most people respond with “oh she bites?” As though her feelings don’t matter; all that matters is their desires. As though the only reason not to touch a dog is that you might get bitten.
Wow, I’m humbled by all the views and shares, I guess I really touched a nerve today!
I think I love you. Thank you for writing this. My dog isn’t quite as shy as yours but he does need time to feel comfortable. Not enough people seem to get this. They don’t stop long enough to just shut up, read a dog and observe and think! I like people and I do like to socialize myself but sometimes I think, “Humans. They really are all about themselves. “
I taught my daughter when she was younger. Always and I mean always let a dog come to you first. Just because you like dogs doesn’t mean they always like you. People are just plain stupid
This one’s tough, though. Just because a dog approaches you does not mean that they are okay being touched by you. My problem in particular is that my dog will approach people out of curiosity and “appear” friendly, but the moment you reach for him, all bets are off. So even if a dog approaches you or your children, it’s still best to ASK. Or, just to be safe, don’t touch other people’s dogs. Ever. There’s really no need for it. It’s not worth the risk, and I am sure anyone with a shy dog would agree. Just don’t. Life will go on, even if you don’t get to pet that random dog that approached you in the park. To me, that’s like saying “I can’t believe that wild fox bit me! It approached me first!”. A little extreme, okay, but you really just never know. A strange dog is just that – a strange dog. You don’t know them or how they’ll react.
It’s great that you teach your daughter not to just touch dogs at random, though. Absolutely. Most people do not do that, sadly. However, as the owner of a dog that may or may not approach someone in a park, I’d strongly urge you to reconsider this. It’s not worth your child possibly bit, and absolutely not worth the extreme stress caused to the dog and the owner, not to mention a potential law suit, medical bills or, worst case, the dog being euthanized.
I personally know someone whose dog bit a child, which was absolutely provoked, and after months of court proceedings and appeals (at which time the dog lived under quarantine in the local shelter and was not allowed to be visited by his owner), he was euthanized. His owner couldn’t even be present.
So sorry, but my dog’s life is more important that another person getting to pet him, period. I cannot even begin to fathom the heartbreak that my friend went through (which I can only assume was debilitating judging from the hysterical phone calls I received from the Court house after the verdict), and I certainly would not want to be in his shoes.
Agreed with all the above comments (and I have shared on my Facebook page). My rescued terrier mix, Digby, is beyond shy. His stranger danger is very, very real and almost crippling for him. He was passed around quite a bit before he was 2.5 and I adopted him, and I really have no idea about his history. All I can say for sure about him is that he’s incredibly sensitive, very attentive to how humans are feeling, he adores cats, can get along with most dogs, and absolutely cannot, without exception, be touched by strangers and, frankly, most people he knows. He is wonderful with me and my parents, my boyfriend (mostly) and my sister (mostly), but you always have to be keenly aware of his boundaries. I’ve never had an issue with him and I trust him 100%, but that trust stops with me. When people reach towards him he panics – you can see it in his face. His eyes bulge, his mouth closes and he panics. If you continue to reach towards him, you’ll get bit. Considering he’s a 40+ lb. dog, that’s a considerable risk to take.
I have had to leave dog parks with him shuffling behind me because after repeated instructions to other “not to touch Digby – he isn’t friendly towards strangers and he WILL bite you”, people continue to sulk and pout and then try to touch him when I’m not looking. Seriously. And what happens? They almost get bit. I’ve ever had to physically “restrain” people from touching him after I’ve asked them not to and they’ve tried anyway.
I am constantly bombarded with sad sack phrases like “but he LOOKS friendly”! (yeah and so do I – what’s your point?) or “Aw, I wish I could touch him!”. Right. But you can’t. Get over it.
If I had a dollar for every “trainer” or dog expert that gave me unsolicited advice about how to “properly socialize him”, I’d be rich. I’ve had him for 5 years now. If anything, his fear of strangers has gotten worse (and his protective nature has increased). Treats do not work. Talking calmly and slowly and taking your time does not work. He will never like you. Ever. Trust me.
I know my dog and I know his limits, so back off and get over yourself. Move on, as the article said, and find a friendlier, non-shy dog to maul.
Side note: could Pip be more adorable?! He actually has a face like my Digby, who has been likened to a mix between an Ewok and an English Bulldog. Or a pot-bellied pig. Either/or 🙂
“If I had a dollar for every ‘trainer’ or dog expert that gave me unsolicited advice about how to ‘properly socialize him’, I’d be rich.”
You nailed it Grace K. I’ve had my share of buttinskies figure they know better after talking to me for an hour or from being a park buddy. They take one seminar, one class, on dog training – and who knows who taught THAT class – and they think that that brief summary applies to all dogs.
Nope. Not really.
People from the outside assume people are overreacting and causing their dog’s issues. I don’t deny I do know some people that are nervous themselves in nature and may even add problems. But that’s not true for every shy dog. Not at all. This may shock some people but sometimes being vigilant with a dog that doesn’t care for strange people, or DOGS, approaching, isn’t out of the human’s innate nature. It’s because that human knows their DOG.
Dogs are not all the same lumps of plain clay, entirely to be molded by the outside world. Conditioning helps but much of not most of dog behavior starts in the genes.
I’m sick of hearing “IT’s all how you raise them!” People now think they can completely change EVERYTHING. Sorry, you can’t. Maybe you can do some modification at best, but the underlying genetic nature remains the same.
Pat McConnell PhD is one experienced trainer AND scientist who acknowledges this. I’m so grateful for her existence and wish more people knew of her instead of Cesar Millan.
I’ve heard a lot of these things myself. So far Pip has been very tolerant – although absolutely miserable – the times when I haven’t been fast or attentive enough to intervene on his behalf (both skills I have honed to perfection over the years) and hasn’t bitten, but I couldn’t say it’s impossible that he would feel frightened or cornered enough not to ever bite. Not worth it.
I will say, there are a lot of people out there who are very savvy and understanding, and just happily pass on by if he tells them or I tell them he doesn’t want their attention. But it’s absolutely crazy the stuff that some people do. I’ve had to repeatedly body block children who have ignored my instructions not to pet him. One woman chased him around yelling IT’S OK ALL DOGS LOVE ME and when I recovered my wits after getting stunned and asked her (maybe not so politely) to leave him alone, he was scared, complained to her friend as we were walking off about how she’s seen me before and I never let my dog interact with people!!! Well, if by “not let” you mean “don’t force,” then yea. :p
Anyway, I’ve grown a thick skin and lightning fast reflexes and I have his back. But some days I just wonder why it’s so important to people to pet him, or to insist without knowing me or him or what I may or may not have already tried or done that they have the magic answer. And they don’t get that as far as I’m concerned, it’s an answer to a question that doesn’t exist anyway.