Picture this - you and your family are out at the park for a lovely picnic. You're having a great time, when suddenly you notice two people walking towards you. As they get closer, one of them squeals, "Omigosh, look at those kids! Aren't they adorable?" and they immediately surround your children. They pick up your infant daughter, pinch the cheeks of your four year old son and attempt to arm-wrestle your teenager. You do not know these people.
Would you be alarmed? Offended? Angry?
Let's continue. Horrified at what the strangers are doing, you tell them to leave your kids alone. One of them says, "oh don't worry, we're good with kids!" The other drops your baby and angrily exclaims, "Why would you even bring them to this park if we couldn't play with them? Are they little psychopaths or something?" Offended with your request to stop fondling your family, the people walk off, muttering about what an awful person you are for asking them to stop, and how your kids must be murderous little brats.
This happens to people every day - only replace the children in the above scenario... with dogs.
Since I've started walking my dogs in public more frequently, this kind of situation has become shockingly more apparent. There are five basic scenarios/characters that I've been able to identify as Dangerous:
1. The Rhetorical Question
Stranger encounters us on a walk. Stranger asks if they can pet the dogs, then immediately swoops in to pat them on the head - without waiting for an answer to their question. This is not good. People are not accustomed to being told "No" - so they assume that our answer will always be "Yes."
2. The Petting Zoo
Stranger encounters us on a walk. Without asking us if the dogs can be petted, they send their children over to "pet the doggies." When we body-block the approaching kids and tell them they can't pet the dogs, the horrified Strangers (parents) yell to their kids to get away from the "mean dogs." No - our dogs are not mean - we just don't want your kids petting them, okay?
3. The Creeper
Stranger encounters us on a walk. Stranger stares at the dogs, tries to talk to them in a weird voice, crouches down and makes funny noises - completely refusing to acknowledge the humans at the other end of the leash. As a bonus, this is usually at night. I will reiterate - our dogs are not mean - but they are protective and will react accordingly if a Stranger gives off Creeper vibes. Don't be a Creeper unless you want to get bit... or at least roared at by an angry black dog with 42 big, strong, capable teeth.
4. The Side-Stepper
Stranger encounters us on a walk. Stranger asks if the dogs are "nice." Stop beating around the bush, moron. What you really want to ask is if you can pet them. And the answer is no, you can't. But they're still nice dogs, unless of course you also fit into Scenario #3.
5. The Sneak Attack
Stranger encounters us on a walk. Stranger asks to pet the dogs, we politely say no. Stranger seemingly accepts our answer and continues on, but at the last moment reaches over and pats our dogs' butts as they walk past. Inappropriate touching! Our dogs are well socialized, but if someone swats their butts without preamble they may very well swing around and try to take a chunk out of the offending hand! Just don't do it! (This is especially common with children. Parents, if you tell your kids not to pet the doggy, be sure to enforce it. If your goal is to win the Inattentive/Ineffectual Parenting Award, letting your kid tackle a strange dog's butt after directly being told not to is a recipe for success. Here's your trophy.)
If we're walking, we're either working or exercising - please do not disturb us. It's not that our dogs are vicious beasts - it's just that our time is valuable, and we don't bring dogs to a public place so strangers and/or their kids can interact with them. If we're in conversation, please don't interrupt us. If we're trying to leave for the night, please don't block our path to our vehicles.
If I want my dogs to be petted, I'll be sure to let you know. If I'm not in the middle of something, I'm usually more than happy to let you pet my dogs - but wait until I tell them to greet you. Every interaction is a training opportunity, and my dogs have a clear cue ("Go say hi") that tells them when it's okay to interact with strangers.
And if I tell you it's not a good time for you to pet my dog, please respect that.
(On a side note - if anyone wants to pet my dogs, we'll be at the dog show at the Iowa State Fairgrounds next weekend at the Meet The Breed booth. Hope to see you there!)