My corgi Ein is cute. Super cute. I’m not bragging, it’s just a fact. And when we go out in public, people can’t resist that cute. Ein has a handsome teddy bear face, a perpetual smile and that bunny-butt strut that all corgis have and people need to get their hands on him.
But here’s the thing - not every dog likes to be petted. Ein is in this category, and he is not alone. Do you have a dog like that? What does your dog do when strangers approach on a walking trail or at the park? Maybe her tail is low or tucked under her legs, rather than wagging or swaying. She might try to hide behind you as people approach. She might crouch low to the ground and avert her eyes away from the situation. These are all signs that your dog would rather not be petted by a stranger.
I knew nothing when Ein came to live with me. He is the dog who taught me about dogs. When people approached us and asked me, “He’s so cute! May I pet him?” I said that they could. If someone couldn’t pet my dog, didn’t that mean that he was a Bad Dog? Didn’t that mean that he wasn’t friendly, that there was something wrong with him?. It meant embarrassing me, and the other people. For some reason, that mattered. And it was at my dog’s expense.
The years went by. Two more dogs were added to my family, dogs who loved to be petted. It was easier now. I could just tell people, “You can pet the big dog, the little one is shy.” That was a compromise. I could take one of my larger, people-loving dogs to social situations and leave Ein at home, happy. Ein did come to love rally obedience trials, and the people there. No one wanted to pet Ein, but they might give him a treat. He learned to stare and smile and charm other competitors into giving him a tidbit without the compromise of petting. These were Dog People. They understood dogs. This was Ein’s great gift to me, all I had to do was watch him and pay attention. And I learned to understand dogs, too. They don’t speak with words, they speak with body language.
Fast forward to now. Ein is 11. We were at a boat launch getting ready to go out on our kayak together. Senior though he is, Ein is a head turner with his handsome face and adorable little orange lifejacket. A group of teenage girls were gasping and squealing over him, you would have thought he was Elvis. “May we pet your dog??” It had literally been years since I had been asked that question of Ein. Years. And it caught me off guard. But without hesitation and for the first time in his entire life I said the correct answer: “I’m sorry. My dog is afraid of people and does not like to be petted.” They seemed surprised and a little embarrassed. That’s okay. I was standing up for my dog. Like I always should have. And honestly, it felt great.
It is okay to stand up for your dog. It is okay to say, “No.” People will get over it. They will find another soppy bouncy dog to love on, possibly within the next hour or less. It does not mean that your dog is a Bad Dog if she does not want to be petted or touched. Your dog is a Good Dog, an awesome dog. Your dog is not public property, she is your friend and she is counting on you to make decisions in her best interests. Watch her, learn to read her body language and say “No.” when you can see that your dog would rather not be petted. Your pup will thank you for it, I guarantee! And you might even feel super proud of yourself!