Ask before you touch

I have a heartfelt plea to all dog lovers out there: please ask before you touch someone else's dog!

I suppose most people might think that they can tell whether or not a dog is friendly by the body language, but being bitten or growled at is not the only reason you should not approach or pet a dog without asking. I have a frustrating problem. My dog is very cute, gorgeous, friendly and loves everyone and everything - and there lies the problem.

...a crowd of people all coming towards me at once with hands outstretched like a zombie film!

I picked up my 8-week-old black Labrador puppy from the breeder, and at 12 weeks old she was coming with me to summer shows, safely contained in a dog crate at the back of my stand for the most part. Her first show was DogFest and the problems started when I carried her around the show ground. People at the show just could not control themselves. At first I was proud to show her off to people, but after only five minutes I was getting more and more alarmed at people's behaviour. Reaching out with their hands all over my puppy, stroking and crowding around me without asking. At one stage it became quite frightening, a crowd of people all coming towards me at once with hands outstretched like a zombie film! Not a single person asked me if they could say hello or touch my puppy; they could not help themselves.

As my dog grew a little older and, after her second set of injections, it started to become more of a problem. I was trying to train her to walk nicely on a lead and socialise her with the world, but still people at dog shows came up and without asking, and in the blink of an eye they had bent down, made eye contact, stroking her and rewarding her frantic jumping up. So what she was learning was that jumping up at people was a really great, fun thing to do - always rewarded with attention and cuddles!

...when that puppy is getting on for 20 kilograms and runs at you full tilt across a muddy field, it's not funny at all.

The golden rule is to make sure that your dog has all four feet on the floor before you reward it with praise, cuddles, walkies or treats. The wonderful dog-loving public were undoing all my hard work. Yes, it is hard to resist a gorgeous, friendly, wriggly puppy who is pulling towards you, tail wagging frantically trying to come and say hello, BUT PLEASE DON'T!

In the split second you just reach down to stroke the dog it has jumped up at you and has been rewarded for it. So that behaviour is reinforced and the dog learns that jumping up is a great thing to do.

Don't misunderstand me, I just love taking my puppy out to meet people and other dogs, but please, please ask before you touch. All her four feet on the floor and you can snuggle, pat, praise, stroke and talk to my dog as much as you like. It might be quite cute to see a little 8-week-old puppy jump up at you, but when that puppy is getting on for 20 kilograms and runs at you full tilt across a muddy field, it's not funny at all.

You wouldn't go up to their baby or their child and fling your arms around it would you? So I ask you all please, please, please ask before you touch someone else's dog.


This is a personal essay by Sarah Morris. Want to submit your own writing? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

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