Don't be "that guy"
Imagine you're entertaining friends. All of your guests are invited to bring a "+1."
One of your coworkers arrives with a friend you've never before met, Charlie. Charlie enters the room, immediately grabs you by the face, moves his face within inches of yours and stares into your eyes, smiling as he musses your carefully coiffed hair while loudly saying, "Well, aren't you the cutest sweetest schmoopsie?"
That's odd, you think. He must not be from around here.
As the night progresses, things go from bad to worse. Whenever you're near Charlie, he pokes and grabs at you. Once he tried to pick you up and put you on his lap. He repeatedly tries to grab your face and kiss you directly on the lips, saying, "I just LOVE hostesses!" as you desperately try to avoid him. As you're eating your dinner, Charlie comes over to you and begins poking you in the ribs and scratching your head.
During dessert, he tries to start a wrestling match with you. He's making play growl noises and pushing you around. Can you say AWKWARD?!
You need a Charlie break, stat. You retire to your bedroom, briefly, for a minute to rest. You close your eyes and take a deep breath. Wait! What's that? Charlie flops in the bed behind you, wraps his arms around you, and tries spooning with you.
What do you think about Charlie? You think he's a weird guy, right? Not someone you'd want your kids to be around?
Charlie's not unfriendly, per se, he's just socially inept. He obviously doesn't understand how people like to be treated. That we all feel entitled to a certain amount of personal space. He doesn't get that there are some things we allow our friends and family to do that are not acceptable for strangers to do to us.
Funny, because Charlie is behaving exactly how many people behave toward strange dogs. You probably know someone exactly like Charlie. Heck, maybe you are exactly like Charlie! They meet a new dog and stare him down. Grab at him. Poke and prod at him while he's eating. Try to play with him when he's eating, cuddle when he needs a moment to himself or goes to his "room" (crate) to relax. People routinely do things to strange dogs they would never imagine doing to a strange person. Someone that acted in such a manner toward a new person would be deemed extremely rude; but when someone acts like this toward a strange dog, we laugh and roll our eyes, "crazy dog lover."
Charlie doesn't understand that dogs have rules for intimacy. I may be able to kiss my dogs on the face, but Charlie can't; just like I can surprise my hubby in bed with a spooning session but it would probably be really awkward if Bob the Bean Counter from work tried to do the same. Trying to hug and kiss someone else's dog is like trying to make out with someone else's wife - not cool.
What about Charlie's wife Heather? Heather likes to take their 3 year old son Tyler to the park. The local park is a busy one. Heavy traffic - lots of kids, dogs, rollerbladers, bicyclists, including a big beautiful pond with a swimming area. Heather likes to use this time to catch up with her friends. She chats and texts on her cell phone constantly at the park, too preoccupied with her BFF's latest status update to notice that her son is a menace at the park - he runs around and chases the other kids, knocking them down. Sometimes he likes to throw his toys in the path of an oncoming cyclist - once causing the bicyclist to wipe out and hurt himself. She was too busy texting to notice. When he confronts Heather, she yells "you should have watched where you're going!" despite the fact that her son caused the accident in the first place. Tyler also likes to steal other kids toys. He doesn't like to share his own toys, so he yells at the other kids when they approach him while playing. If they don't back off, Tyler pushes the other kids down or bites their hands. Sometimes he wades too close to the water, or runs out into traffic chasing bubbles.
Luckily, so far nobody's been seriously hurt. "So far" is the operative phrase here.
As you read about Heather and Tyler, perhaps you thought to yourself, "goodness, there can't really be people like that, can there?" The truth is that there absolutely are. Heather's a lot like many dog owners I know. Heather's the girl that takes her untrained dog off leash in public. She's the girl that labels rude behaviors as "friendly" to excuse herself of the responsibility of training her dog. She's the person that assumes every person, dog, and cat in the community loves her dog as much as she does and is as willing as she is to tolerate his unacceptable, overzealous behavior.
Heather is not unique. I know lots of folks who take their dogs to the park and allow them off leash when they can't call their dog away from an empty plastic soda cup, let alone the excitement of dogs in play, toddlers running around and playing, or squirrels. These owners are not only putting their own dogs in danger, but the other people at the park as well - a dog running into a street could cause a traffic accident. Your 90-lb adolescent dog running up on the 97 year old lady walking her toy poodle and jumping to "say hi" because he's "friendly" (read - untrained) could cause her to break a hip.
Whenever you're interacting with a new dog, think to yourself - "how would I like it if a new person greeted me like that?" Not sure how to greet a dog? Click here for some tips.
Whenever you're out in public with your dog, think to yourself - "how would I like it if someone else allowed their dog to behave like that?" Try to think about it from other people's perspectives to - how would I feel about that if I were afraid of dogs? If my dog were aggressive? If I were carrying an infant in my arms? If I were driving a car and someone else's dog chased a squirrel across the street?
Responsible dog ownership is bigger than a single person and the dogs that she shares her life with. It's about the entire community. When you enter the world with your dog, your actions reflect on all dog owners.
Tomorrow, we'll examine some examples of truly responsible dog owners.