Don't push, it may backfire

Standing on the beautiful coast of Oregon, I wrapped my sweater around me tighter. It was chilly, really chilly and only a few other people were out at the early hour that we had hit the beach.  We wandered around looking at tide pools and stood in awe at the immense waves that were thunderously crashing on the shore.  As I turned away from the wind I caught a glimpse of a small dog barking at a man.  The man was bent over towards the dog and reaching out; the small dog was about 5 feet away barking but backing up.  A clear and all too familiar scene.   "A blog" I thought to myself, so here it is. 

This dog clearly does not want a friend to play ball with.  Elsa got it and is in the process of leaving.   Had she not moved away; she would have very likely, found herself on her back in the sand.  

I watched the dog and man interact.  The owner was a bit further down the beach and called to her dog who very happy and enthusiastically ran to her; leaping in the air with joy.  But then the dog turned and ran to bark at the man again; after all it had tried to touch the dog.  The woman owner caught up with the man and her dog and she took hold of her dog.  The man continued to reach out to the dog; the dog continued to bark while trying to back away.  Then the woman pushed her dog (who was basically kicking and screaming,) towards the man.  I shuddered, thinking that this is where a bite typically happens.  The dog luckily did not bite but it cringed as the woman forced it to be touched. 

The dog was clearly stating that it did not want to be touched.  But for some unknown reason, the woman decided that the dog should be touched by the man.  The dog had been spooked by the man's desire for contact in the first place.  Pushing the dog into an uncomfortable interaction is the worst thing she could have done.  But sadly it is what many people force their dogs into.  We should not choose a strange humans desires over our dogs need for space.   By doing this we are completely ignoring all the signs that our dog is giving us.  They said "I do not want to be touched by that man," with all the barking and backing up.  Yet we push them into the situation they don't want to be in. 

The woman could have used the situation as a training moment.  She could have called her dog to her, put it's leash on and approached the man; explaining that the dog was not comfortable and telling him to not look at it.  A little chatting time to allow the dog to relax and maybe toss a few treats to the ground if they are relaxed.  Maybe even give the gentleman a few treats to toss to the dog.  But by looking at the dogs reaction; that is as far as I would have taken it on that day.  Further work would be required to a point of giving the stranger a treat and offering to the dog in their hand.  That is WITHOUT looking at them. 

The whole scene that played out before me is far too common.  It is sad that humans ignore what our dogs tell us.  Would we tell our children "go over to that guy and let him touch you?"  I think not.  We cannot tell our dogs that a stranger is friendly and just wants to say hi by petting them.  They don't get that.  They are or are not comfortable with strangers and between those two states are a vast number of levels of comfort.  Why do we force our dogs to interact when they clearly don't want to? 

Please, if your dog says that they don't want to interact; listen, don't push.  Take the time to help them to be comfortable; but they will all have their levels, respect that.