“Is (S)He friendly?”

(Disclaimer: This topic was first discussed here, at Doggerel. All inspiration for this post goes to them, but the thoughts and opinions expressed here are our own.)

Whenever we are out walking the dogs, or just out in public with them in general, we are often approached by people who ask us this question: “Is he/she friendly?”

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I should start with the positive. I certainly appreciate the respect of checking in with the owner, as opposed to rushing up to a dog hands-first. I recognize that this is the average-person’s way of asking for permission before they begin interacting with the dog. I should also say that at least in our area, we do not see a ton of breed discrimination. While I know other people have opposite experiences, I do not think that the majority of the times this question has been posed to us, it had anything to do with our dogs breeding or physical characteristics. And that is awesome!

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On to the negative… what in the heck is my response supposed to be to such a question?! Of course, my dogs are polite, well-adjusted members of the canine society. They are certainly not mean or aggressive. The problem with such a question, is that the speaker is typically looking for a brief yes or no answer, and unfortunately for most dogs and their responsible owners, that is not a satisfying option. What does “friendly” mean to you?

In that small window of time when they are quickly advancing on my dog(s), potentially with a child or other animal in their immediate vicinity, how am I supposed to get across to them the specifics of my dog(s)’ personality(s)?

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For example, Gaige is incredibly friendly, to a fault. So much so, that if not properly exercised and managed, she may accidentally enthusiastically knock over your small child. She may also cover it in kisses… is that something you are comfortable with? In more dramatic scenarios, she may overwhelm another dog and instigate it, oblivious to its warning signs. So while she is not at all aggressive with other dogs, she is not a dog I feel comfortable allowing to greet another dog on-leash, face-to-face without a slow introduction. So how would you answer that question with Gaige at the end of your leash?

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As for Tonka, he loves people of all kinds. He will sit quietly and obediently for your child to visit. He is generally great with other dogs, but has had some bad experiences and can be a bit guarded or grumpy with new dogs, especially males, and especially when on-leash. However, I certainly don’t want to label him as being “un-friendly,” because that isn’t him at all!

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Finally there is Georgia. Most of you know that she isn’t consistent in her reactions to other dogs, so it is easy to ask handlers of strange dogs to keep their distance. But again, I do not necessarily want her to be labeled as “un-friendly” just because she takes a little time to warm up. Further, she is as sweet as can be with people, and will happily lean up against you for a rub or snuggle. However, new people sometimes make her nervous. While I have never seen her act inappropriately with strangers, I never want to put my dogs in an uncomfortable position just because I believe that they will not react negatively. Conversely, when overexcited, Georgia may try to jump. As comfortable as some people say they may be with this behavior, it is not behavior that I want to condone or reward in my dogs. Just because she is “friendly” does not necessarily mean I want someone running up to her and loving all over her when she is jumping on them.

Aside from the difficulty in defining the term ‘friendly,’ as well as striving to quickly sum up the behaviors and preferences of our dogs’ interactions, it is important to note that this question is essentially asking for a guarantee as to your pets’ predicted reaction. NEWSFLASH: whether or not my dog is ‘friendly,’ that is not permission for you to advance and throw caution to the wind, with the assurance that this dog will react appropriately to your every action. It is important for us to remember that just because we have a thorough understanding of canine body language and appropriate behavior around dogs, does not mean that everyone does. So how do we quickly sum up the appropriate ways to approach our dogs, without sounding like a crazy dog person, or making our dogs look bad? Add into the mix that I am often walking multiple dogs at once, and you can understand why this question makes me bristle.

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Fellow dog owners, do you get this question? If so, do you have a kind and succinct response to it? What do you prefer to be asked before someone approaches your dog?

9 thoughts on ““Is (S)He friendly?”

  1. Great post; and I’m totally with you: It’s so hard to know how to answer such a question! With Pyrrha, my thought is always, “Yes, she’s friendly. She won’t bite you, but she is scared of other dogs and small children. Strange men also make her nervous… So… is that friendly? Then, yes, I guess so”??? So tricky. And I can imagine it only gets more complicated when you have three different canine personalities in the mix!

  2. Oh my, the dreaded question! I struggle with it too. There is no quick answer. My male Joey absolutely loves people. He will let children hug him and he returns kisses. But if several kids rush up to him, he gets nervous and barks with his hackles up. Then he’s immediately labeled as aggressive. With dogs, he is generally ok except with un-neutered males. Or if my female is reacting, he follows her lead. My female has never been terribly social. I usually don’t let folks pet her. She stays off to the side usually minding her own business. She does not like people getting in her face. When she’s ready, she will approach and sniff then usually turns her back. She does not like being face to face. People will kneel down and try calling her over and if she doesn’t respond, I do not force the issue. She is clearly saying she’s fine where she’s at. Because of her nervousness and their size, I do not let children approach her. I do not want to set her up to fail and those little faces are just too close for comfort. It’s just the way she is. After all, not all people like every other person, nor do they want to interact with everyone. She is the same way. I don’t believe in forcing dogs to do anything they’re not comfortable with. It’s a recipe for disaster. Some dogs she’s ok with and others not. On-leash is always worse. I have struggled with her for many years. One of my biggest issues is she gets frustrated when she can’t go up to another dog/cat/squirrel/person/etc and redirects on my male. We’re working on that but not much progress yet.

  3. I can see how this question could pose a problem for some people. Every dog is different and just asking if they are friendly doesn’t really do a whole lot. I feel that if someone asks that they are really asking if they can approach.

    We do get this question and I always answer, “Yes”. Both Boomer and Dottie are friendly and in some cases to a fault, but I feel it’s my responsibility to keep that in check. When I feel a situation is causing some stress or that one of them is uncomfortable or done with the meet and greet, be it with people or other dogs, I will say “Thank you” and move them along.

  4. I get this question a lot, and I always appreciate that it is asked. While Lucy is friendly too a fault, she is a jumper and a licker. Oscar is also as sweet as can be to people, but can be leash reactive to dogs. While I think a better question is “May I pet your dog” and that is what I’ve taught my son to ask, or “Can my dog say hello to your’s”, I think it is great that a person is at least asking. As for my response, I just say “Yes she’s friendly, but she is an excited jumper;” or “Yes he’s friendly, but he can be leash reactive, so he needs some space from your dog”. It answers that my dog IS friendly and shouldn’t be judged, but you aren’t necessarily invited to come say hello either. ๐Ÿ™‚ Great topic!

  5. I usually answer “he/she’s just uncomfortable on leash/shy/etc”. That way I’m not answering that my dog is unfriendly. Surprisingly in our neck of the woods, we get “can I say hello” from people only more and “is he/she friendly” from people with their pets more.

  6. I totally understand and am always walking with 2 excited dogs. Both of my dogs are very “friendly” but one is leash reactive with other dogs and one loves all other dogs but new people, ESP men make her extremely nervous. As their mom, I know my girls are much better in off leash encounters – but that’s not going to help in these situations. I usually respond with something like “yes, but she’s nervous around new people or yes, but she’s really excited today” or something similar. We’re usually walking our own neighborhood and what I DON’T want is for anyone to think they’re not friendly – especially since one of the 2 is a hound/pit mix and I don’t want people making any assumptions about her. I also don’t want people barging up to my girls trying to pet them, etc and have something bad happen. Great article.

  7. My response to strangers is always – they are a bit grumpy today and we are in a bit of a rush but we hope you have a great day! In situations where I just don’t know (strangers fall into this category) we always choose avoidance. If we know them, they don’t have to ask!

  8. Instead of “friendly,” we use “social.” So if we were on a walk with both dogs, we’d regularly be saying as we walked away or someone made noise, “sorry, this is Over-Social and that’s Under-Social.” Gambit is problematically over-social when he wants play with a dog he sees on leash. I apologize to them and tell him “nobody wants to play with crazy” as we head away. Other times he is fine and can meet the other dog calmly. If it’s a kid, we just ask them to let him smell their hand first as that’s his preference over being petted from the side immediately.

  9. Your description of Gaige reminds me so much of Kaya! And Norman is super relaxed but he gets more excited around Kaya. So it depends, if it’s just people I am a sucker and I always say yes but I sometimes regret it when they get too excited. But if they have dogs I usually try to keep moving if they’re on leash. if I just have Norman, I’ll let him greet anyone who’s interested because he’s so easy.

    I know what you mean about being in 2 minds about this question. On one hand it’s nice that they at least ask but at the same time it’s like, if you’re so worried why even bother me?

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