Advocating for Your Fearful Dog – Just Say No

Posted on January 26th, 2012 by FetchMasters in Positive Dog Training

“What if somebody asks to pet my dog?”
It is a question I often get from clients with fearful dogs.

Tonight I was at Office Depot getting some copies made when I felt my dog, Alie, squeezing her body between my legs and the counter. In retrospect, I guess I saw the little girl approaching in my peripheral vision, but I did not make the connection. Then it clicked.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw the little girl moving too quickly, her hand outstretched, toward Alie. When she noticed I was looking at her, she asked if she could pet my dog.

While Alie’s fearfulness has subsided profoundly over the years, she sometimes acts as if children are trolls who want to eat her — not an unreasonable assumption since they flash their teeth, leer at her, run towards her and reach for her with their claws.

If Alie is off-leash, she will dart around and play-bow towards them until she is sure they are good trolls and not the more sinister type. Eventually she will work her way close enough for a sniff. But when she is on a leash, she has no way to maintain a safe distance, and her fearfulness starts getting the best of her.

Unfortunately, I did not have any treats handy. If I had, I would have given the girl one and explained how to appropriately greet Alie. But instead, I had to tell her no and explain that my dog seemed a bit scared of her. The girl looked disappointed and sulked back to her parents, who then gave me a disapproving look. After all, what kind of jerk tells a little girl she cannot pet a cute dog?

Ultimately, we have to do what is right for our dogs. While I wish I would have remembered to bring some treats with me, I think just as much good was done by telling the girl no. First, Alie knows she can trust me to protect her. Second, a setback in Alie’s socialization was prevented. And third, the little girl received some education about approaching strange dogs.

Always advocate for your dog, and don’t be afraid to say no if it is the right thing to do.