“May I Pet Your Dog?”

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.

Ein at a picnic with me.   He is in between my legs with head turned away from a person off-camera.   Look at his lips and the tension on his face.   He says "No thank you!"

Ein at a picnic with me. He is in between my legs with head turned away from a person off-camera. Look at his lips and the tension on his face, his ears are beginning to fold back. He says “No thank you!”

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.

No touchy!

No touchy!

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!

3 thoughts on ““May I Pet Your Dog?”

  1. Great post, such an important message! One of our guys is like this too and like you it took nearly while to notice that he didn’t really like being pet by strangers. Now we use the same technique as you “you can pet our other dog, but he is wary of new people”. Hard to do sometimes but it feels great to stand up for your dog :)

  2. SUCH a good message. Ben is the “hide behind me” type. He has to get comfortable with strangers. Once he knows you, he’ll be your best friend for life (and if he sits on you, you KNOW you’re in good with him!). But at first he will generally back up and hide or bark if the person leans right over him (unless you have food — because the easiest way to win Ben over is to offer him a tasty treat). Dahlia, on the other hand, doesn’t care if people come up to her. She can be aloof if you don’t talk to her the right way but she loves ear scritches from everyone she meets. And unfortunately, she’s the dog people don’t pay attention .

  3. I whole heartedly agree. Just like every person doesn’t like to be touched, neither does every dog. I’ve had to say no to several people because I have two greyhounds, and while they are friendly.. they only like to be touched a certain way. Everyone seems to think every dog has to act like the most friendly, in your face lab all the time and that all dogs should just loooovveee them. But it doesn’t work out that way. Every dog is different. And dog breeds are not all the same. I don’t mind being harsh when I have to tell people no. But the problem is that they do like being pet, and they will walk up to people first. But they like to be pet and socialize on their terms only and only with people who are gentle. It’s very difficult to determine who those people are. I think people who want to pet a dog need to learn to do it right. Grabbing the dogs face is not ok. Neither is hard rubbing or scratching and let the dog come to you first! I have found though.. I have no problems around horse people (because they treat the dogs like they would a horse they don’t know) and when I bring them to horse shows I generally never have this problem.

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