You are enjoying a quiet walk. Suddenly a stranger races up and envelopes you in a huge bear hug. He lifts you of the ground and screams “Wow! Hi new friend! How are you?” What would your response be? Would you yell and scream? Would you throw a punch or at least push the friendly assailant away? Would you call the police? What would you do? This behavior coming from a stranger would be unacceptable. If we would not tolerate it, why do we think it is OK to let our dogs behave in such manners? Why are we shocked when the target of our dog’s exuberance snaps or when our dog snaps at a rude dog?
“Oh he’s friendly!” called out an owner as her loose dog charged into the face of a friend’s dogs. My friend was furious. One of her dogs was reactive and the rudeness of this strange dog set back months of intense work. Forget the fact that the dog was off leash and the owner was breaking the law. Even if there was no leash law, allowing a dog to race up to a strange dog is dangerous. You have no idea how the target of your dog’s attention will react.
I was at a garden center with my oldest dog when a larger dog on an extending leash was allowed to pull across an aisle (on an extending lead) and go after my dog. “Oh he just wants to be friends!” the owner laughed. Then he became irate when I told him he had to control his dog. My dog was threatened by the actions of the much larger animal. He can be reactive thanks to issues when he was younger and a few very rude dogs, but he loves to be out and about. He is a great little dog both my kids worked with. My daughter still shows him every now and then in Juniors. Foster tolerates a lot and will ignore a lot, however a large dog targeting him is not such a situation. We had been enjoying a lovely outing prior to.
I watched a loose dog tear into a group of children. The owner yelled the dog is fine and wanted to be friends. Some of these children were terrified of the dog. They began screaming, trying to drive the dog away, etc. Their actions could have made the dog go from happy and playful to defensive. I remember a story from Florida where a friendly dog bounded to the edge of his un-barrier fenced property (shock fence). His target was an elderly pedestrian. As the frightened woman stepped back, she stumbled off the curb and broke her ankle. The owner insisted the dog was just being friendly.
A wagging tail is not a happy tail all the time. I have seen many people say their dog is being friendly when in reality the body language is scary. I was at a vaccine clinic when a woman allowed her dog to pull into a group of dogs and owners. When I stopped her, she became irate. “He needs to say ‘Hi’ he is friendly.” That was not what the body language was screaming. The dog was stiff, hackles raised, hard stare indicating bad things are brewing, etc. He bee-lined right into the faces of the other dogs without stopping. It was scary. His owner assumed a wagging tail meant friendly. No, this dog was going in for something else and eased up only when the targets cowered and moved back. Had one of the dogs risen to the challenge, I am certain there would have been blood. For more on tails, visit this link.
Even if your dog is friendly, not all humans and animals may tolerate his exuberant greetings. If I am working with a fearful dog, your friendly dog’s approach can create behavioral setbacks. A dog who feels threatened may defend himself. A friendly dog can cause damage as he pounces on another animal or human. I had a client neglect to keep her dog from the front door as requested. The dog joyfully lunged and sent me down several steps. I have watched people knocked over by exuberantly greeting dogs as owners cry out “Oh he’s friendly!” Are you willing to cover medical bills if your friendly dog injures someone? Will you blame a dog owner if his controlled dog on a short leash fights back as your out of control dog jumps on his head?
I am a dog lover, however; I do like a well-mannered greeting. I love it when people make sure their dogs are not allowed to be rude to mine when we are out. It is safer. Your dog can be friendly! Just make sure the dog is under control and you are respectful of others. .
Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.