Personal Space and Respect – a win-win relationship
By: Brittney Frazier
Imagine walking through the park down a path and holding hands loosely with your significant other. You’re taking in the sights and smells of your environment and enjoying the relaxation of being close to your partner. Then, you see a person approaching whom you’ve never met approaching the two of you at a fast speed. The person is smiling from ear to ear speaking a different language in a loud and excited tone. You turn away from the situation as you begin to feel uncomfortable, hoping your partner will take note and ask this stranger to leave. Instead, your partner, also seeming confused, makes no effort to cease the interaction and the person reaches their hand out and takes yours. You try to pull your hand away but the person continues to hold it and talk loudly still making an effort to stare directly into your eyes.
After desperate attempts to communicate your discomfort to your partner to no avail, you finally tell the stranger to leave in the only language you know. You repeat “leave” again very loudly. Because the stranger will not let go of your hand, you get physical. You push the stranger backwards and try to run away from the situation. Your partner, who stills has hold of your other hand, won’t let go and tells you how embarrassed they are at your behavior. As the two of you head home, you can feel the disappointment your partner feels and you struggle to understand what you could have done differently.
Although this kind of situation seems odd to imagine a person finding themselves in, dogs encounter the panic of meeting a stranger, dog or human, quite often throughout their lives. Some may handle meeting new people with a wagging tail and soft eyes. Some dogs, however, find the pressure of allowing strangers into their personal space to be too great. These kind of scenarios are when most accidental bites can occur, but as you can see, are completely preventable.
After welcoming a new dog into your life, teaching the idea of personal space to a dog is a twofold idea that keeps both the dog and people surrounding it safe. One of the most valuable tools you can have in a dog is the ability to keep it under control during a meet and greet with new person or dog. Below are some helpful hints to creating expectations for you and your dog when out and about.
Teach your dog to ask for affection or interactions from people with a polite behavior. A solid “sit” or “down” is the kind of calm greeting that will invite people or other dogs into your dog’s personal space without confrontation. This teaches your dog what to do instead of immediately meeting the person or dog head on, which can give the wrong impression and get the meeting off to a chaotic start.
Put yourself out in front of your dog until you feel comfortable with the situation. Although you don’t want your dog to to hide behind you when meeting new friends, you do want a chance to assess the situation before things go array. This will also give you a chance to talk to the approaching stranger and let them know what to do or expect when meeting your dog.
Be aware of the body language your dog is exhibiting. If your dog is new to you, keeps interactions with other people and other dogs brief, positive and light. Be aware of signs your dog is uncomfortable, such as freezing, lip licking, pinned back ears. If you notice your dog is asking to be out of the situation, remove them calmly and communicate to the stranger what your dog needs from them.
The most important thing to remember in any situation involving dogs and new people is to be aware of how you and your dog feel and stay calm. Communicate clearly to the stranger exactly what to expect and don’t overwhelm your dog with new experiences if you feel it may stress them to the point of using biting as a means out. Likewise, teaching a friendly dog good manners in meeting new people and dogs is the best way to build great new relationships for both you and your dog.