“Don’t worry, dogs love me!” …Have you heard this before? It really gets on my nerves when people say things like this. First, to be completely candid, in my experience the people who say this are always the most clueless about dog behavior and body language, and second, because no one loves everyone, dogs included!
If your dog is fearful of people coming into your home, or new people on the street, some outsiders looking in might see this as abnormal dog behavior, but let’s face it; it’s not. Especially today with how many people are rescuing dogs, which is wonderful, but it is simply unfair to expect these dogs will be friendly with everyone in all situations. If you adopted your dog as adult, as I did, you really can’t be sure of what socialization she received, if any. New people, places and things could be difficult, and when a nervous dog is faced with a know-it-all stranger, the situation can simply be too much.
As a dog trainer, I find myself telling the owners of these dogs that the best thing is to encourage guests to ignore the dog while they come in. What I find is that people often think ignoring the dog means not to touch it, or maybe not to talk to it, but then the person still stares intensely at the dog, which can also set off a shy dog. I find, trying to get people to do nothing, is much harder than trying to teach a dog to do something! I have to say that it is harder to get people to follow this rule, than to teach an old dog a new trick!
If you are a guest going into someone else’s home, whether you have dogs, have had dogs your entire life, or feel that all dogs love you; if the home owner requests you ignore his dog, then please listen. No one is going to tell you to ignore a perfectly friendly, happy and confident dog; the owner is asking you to do this for a reason and it is usually the well being of the dog, and you! Do not walk into someone’s home and believe you will be the magic person who changes his dog’s behavior. If it happens that the dog does love you and begs for your attention, then I am sure the owner will take note of this and give you new instructions.
If you are the owner of a dog who you think this could help, here are some pointers:
- Before a guest comes into your home, explain to them that your dog is nervous and in training. I find it is best to tell your guests they can help with the training if they can follow a few quick rules: Take a brief moment to again explain this is for your guests’ safety and the well being of your dog. Let your guests know that by complying they are really helping your training, and hard work, so thank them for cooperating, before you even enter your home.
- Please do not touch my dog at all.
- Please do not stare at, or talk to my dog.
- If my dog comes up to you and begs for attention, by slipping her head under your hand, or nestling up next to you, you may begin to show her attention, but please completely ignore her until then.
- Do not allow them to come into your home until they acknowledge and verbally say that they agree to these rules.
- If for any reason there is a person who simply cannot follow the rules, a child for example, but you feel the situation could be safe for that child to enter your home; then either meet outside with your dog and go for a walk, and then have everyone enter your home together, or better yet, keep your dog behind a baby gate or on leash to ensure no one gets hurt.
If you are a person who truly feels he “gets” dogs, and a lot of dogs really like you; then you are truly the perfect person to help your friends’ dogs overcome this fear, but you must do so on the dog owner’s terms. A dog who is fearful of guests will overcome this fear much more quickly if strangers don’t keep walking into her home and trying to be her best friend! Let the dog come to you, and certainly don’t take offense to a dog who keeps her distance. Remember dogs form their opinions based on bad experience, or no experience. Perhaps you are a man with a beard and the dog was never socialized to men with beards; this is clearly nothing personal, so rather than getting upset, try to show the dog that men with beards aren’t threatening, or imposing on the dog’s space, but instead are completely calm and play hard to get. All I can ask is that you give this a try; if you have a friend whose dog barks at you at a lot, and you have been asked to just ignore him, next time, try it! Playing hard to get works with romance, and dogs too! Make doing nothing easy, by just listening to the dog owner and leaving the dog alone. I think you will find that even more dogs love you with this approach!