We dog owners know that nobody understands our dogs like we do, and sometimes it’s frustrating when other people aren’t sympathetic to the fact that every dog has a different personality.
For instance, my 1 1/2-year-old puppy Luna is the sweetest thing in the world–to the people she loves. She gives kisses, snuggles, and rolls over on her back, begging for scratches. But around strangers, this Shar-Pei/mystery mix is very suspicious.
She’ll bark if someone tries to approach her, ultimately tucking her ears back and tail between her legs as she tries to keep a brave face and fend them off with low rumbles from her chubby jowls.
While I wish she was less apprehensive and more friendly around new people (we’re working on it–she’s getting better!), I know and appreciate that, like a lot of dogs, Luna’s number one priority is to make sure her owners are safe. If everyone understood that this was the basis of many dog’s defensive actions, they may be more sympathetic to their behavior. (Note: If you have a nervous dog, check out the Yellow Dog Project.)
Dogs are so prevalent in society, that sometimes, it’s easy to forget that they’re still instinctual animals. They don’t consider that barking at passers-by or dodging the petting hands of strangers to be “rude.”
For some canines, their instinct tells them, “I must keep my human safe, and I don’t know what you’re going to do. Keep your distance until I can figure you out!” And on the other hand, some dogs can’t wait to make friends with everyone they see. They’re all different!
The fact is, dog personalities are as numerous as people’s personalities. While it’s imperative for dogs to be trained to assimilate into human society, the fact that people should be trained how to behave around dogs is often overlooked, and its importance sorely underestimated.
If everyone learned how to respect the natural instincts of dogs, there would be less situations that result in dog bites and instances of aggression; and maybe, less pups would be taken back to shelters with the reasoning that they “just didn’t fit in” with their new families.
Here are 5 things that we dog owners (and lovers!) know, and wish that the rest of the world did, too:
1. Refrain From Eye Contact With Unknown Dogs
In humans, it’s a form of politeness and connection. In dogs, this can be a sign of a threat. Sure, you may be able to gaze into the big, beautiful eyes of your beloved pet–but that’s because she knows and loves you! If a dog is stared at by a stranger, this is a natural sign of being challenged. When a dog wants nothing more to protect her family, she may act defensively.
When I’m walking Luna and a stranger strolls by, their scent may pique her interest or she may ignore them completely, as long as they don’t pay any attention to her. But when they stare right at her, her hair will bristle and she’ll take a guarded stance.
2. Don’t Approach Strange Dogs
(…no matter how cute they may be!) A lot of people see a furball and make a b-line to pet it. While many dogs love the attention, some are particularly apprehensive when they’re on a leash. Think about it: their means of escape are limited, and they may begin to feel trapped as a stranger closes in. The best thing to do is to ask the owner if it’s alright to approach the dog, and continuously keep an eye on his body language.
3. Observe Basic Canine Body Language
Dogs are so good at communicating with their bodies; it’s humans that sometimes have a hard time reading their signals. If a dog is displaying any of these signs: bristled hair, ears back, tail between legs, barking, or growling, STAY AWAY. This means that the dog is feeling aroused/protective/scared, and if you come too close, she may act defensively.
4. Be Patient!
This tidbit is true in many situations: adopting a dog, training, walking, and meeting dogs all take some degree of it, depending on the people and pups involved. As mentioned earlier, dogs need to be respected for being animals, not expected to perfectly assimilate into a human’s world. We expect a lot from them, and they do pretty darn well for the most part!
5. Every Dog Should Be Evaluated On An INDIVIDUAL Basis
…not by their breed! Yes, certain breeds tend to have specific personality traits. (Shar-Pei are very suspicious, and I can tell you that Luna inherited that one!)
It can be said that the vast majority of Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are super sweet, happy-go-lucky dogs who make great family pets. But when you look at dog bite statistics, even these notoriously friendly dogs appear on the list.
The point is, any dog can snap in a bad circumstance, and dogs of breeds who have gotten a “bad rap” (pit bulls and Dobermans, I’m talking about you!) make some of the best companions.
Of course there are mutts, who have a special mixture of characteristics from different gene pools! And the life that they live? Well, that makes a huge impact on their personalities. Every dog, no matter what the breed, is unique.