Stranger Danger!

By Adam Romsdahl CPDT-KA

A very common behavioral issue that rolls across my desk has to do with dogs meeting new people. It’s a classic scenario where people would love to be able to speak English to their dog and logically explain why they should trust this person. Unfortunately, we can’t. As with most things in life, the more you force something, the more an opposition reflex kicks in. Pushing a stranger upon a dog by offering an excess amount of “affection,” or by shoving a hand in their face to smell, will do more harm than good.

Think of it this way: You enter a party, but you only know one person. You assume that everyone’s cool based on association. That doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you’re a social butterfly, talking to everyone as if you’ve known them for years. Being introduced to new people is fine as long as you get to take your time getting to know the new acquaintances. It’s much more comfortable when you get to back out of conversations or avoid them at your leisure. What doesn’t work well, is the drunk friend of a friend who comes up, hugs you, and asks you to reveal your deepest darkest secrets in front of everyone…. Not cool. In a sense, that’s what people are doing with dogs. Your dog wants to hang out at the edge of the conversation until they get a gauge on who this new person is. They don’t want to be forced into hugging and “getting to know” this person.

Have you ever seen the scenario where friends are being “hooked up” with another friend, but they don’t know it? The unsuspecting twosome shows up to a social gathering, not knowing that other people have already set their wedding date. There’s nothing wrong with assuming these two will get along, but once it’s revealed to either party… it gets awkward. Even more so, when people start forcing the helpless “couple” into conversations. As if these two strangers will say “Oh, you know Jerry? Cool, wanna make out? I’m thinking like 5 bridesmaids. But should we really do a destination wedding if we have that many? ” Though I guess this has the possibility of happening in certain circles, it’s far from the norm. When the conversation starts to get awkward, the arbiters of the relationship get nervous and force the liaison even harder. Because they just KNOW they’re right and the duo are destined for one another. Now there’s no easy way for the victim parties to say, “I just want to get out of here. I don’t think I’m interested.” Again, nothing saying they wouldn’t get along, even fall in love, but forcing the issue too much has immediately doomed these lovebirds’ life of bliss. The proper way of approaching this situation would be to act natural. If they’re supposed to get along, they’ll end up chatting at some point. It’ll be smooth and organic. Afterward, you can claim credit and force them to name their firstborn after you.

Creating a new relationship between your dog and a stranger is not much different. You need to act natural. Have a conversation with the new person and tell the newbie to ignore the dog. When ready, the dog will approach and introduce themselves. A common pitfall: When the shy dog finally approaches with unease, that person swings around, shoves their hand in the dog’s face, and says “Hi baby! I love you! Oh, who’s a good dog? It’s OK! I’m a good person!” in a high pitch voice. Think of that in our person to person greeting example…. F****ng weirdo right?! For the most part, shy dogs just want to be ignored until things can happen on their terms. People tend not to heed this and ignore this basic rule. “Dogs love me!” Ok… not doubting that, but I’m sure there’s a stud at the bar too, saying “ladies LOVE me!” However, if he walks up to a female suitor and tries to pour a drink down her throat, (even her favorite drink) forcing her to touch his muscles…. Less likely he’s going home with someone that night (unless the back of a cop car counts…. Or they’re in Jersey)

Do your dog a solid, tell your friends, relatives, neighbors, etc. to just ignore the shy dog until they’re comfortable coming up with ease. Even after they approach, give them time to adjust. If the new person tries to flood the dog with affection, it’ll backfire and they’ll be marked as a crazy person in your pup’s eyes for a long time.

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