We went to see Totem, the latest Cirque Du Soleil masterpiece, the other day. We arrived a bit early, so there were empty seats around us. When the couple who was sitting next to us arrived and the gentleman sat down, he was just too close for comfort. If I sat normally in my chair, his entire arm was touching mine. I turned and looked at my husband. “That man it touching me.” I said in a low voice. He rolled his eyes, and said, "Get over it, Lisa."
Well, I didn’t get over it. First, I assessed whether or not he could move. There really wasn’t any way for him to move farther from me because of the size of the chairs. Then I attempted to shift my chair until I realized that it was joined to the two chairs around me. Finally, I leaned over to the right side of my chair to avoid touching him. I stayed that way throughout the entire show.
No, I am not a germaphobe. I am just not interested in touching people that I don’t know. Matter of fact, I am not really interested in hugging most people outside of my very immediate family. It just makes me uncomfortable. So, if I don’t like it, why do I have to do it?
Most of you are probably saying that I don’t have to sit so closely to a stranger or hug someone if I don’t want to, but I bet that is not what you expect of your dog.
You probably expect your dog to be friendly to just about everyone — canine or human. Not only does your dog have to be friendly, but your dog has to tolerate anyone and everyone touching him. It doesn’t seem fair to expect more of our dogs than we expect of ourselves.
Now, there is a continuum between disliking certain interactions and actually acting aggressively toward someone who approaches you.
Let’s take a pause to separate out those dogs with a behavioral illness such as fear-related aggression or global fears. These dogs don’t just dislike meeting certain dogs or people, they have a physiologic response (their body reacts, not just their mind) to certain dogs and people. This response actually negatively affects their quality of life. These dogs certainly have to avoid people and dogs (depending on what they react to) until treatment has instituted. While it isn’t desirable for your dog to act aggressively toward someone, he does have the right to avoid that person.
Along those same lines, many of my clients want their dogs to go to daycare or to the dog park. They feel that the dog is missing out on something because they are not “social.” When you think about a dog park from a human point of view, it is easy to see how it can make other dogs uncomfortable.
Let’s take a look through our eyes: You walk into an outdoor area from which you cannot escape (dogs don’t have thumbs so they can’t leave without your help). Immediately, 10 people come running over and get within inches of you, sniffing areas of your body that are generally regarded as private. How are you feeling? It reminds me of going to Disney on a hot August day; torture.
I tell owners that the experience of going to a dog park is only valuable if their dogs find it so and if it doesn’t make their dogs’ behavior worse. There is no intrinsic value for your dog in loving everyone that he meets. If your dog finds these types of situations stressful, there is nothing but more stress to be gained from these experiences. For example, I am not missing out on something because I might be less social than my husband. I have wonderful friends and a very full life. I am actually happier because I am not pressured to be something that I am not.
So, what should you do if your dog doesn’t like to go to the dog park? Stay home. What is the big deal after all? If your dog is afraid or aggressive toward other dogs, and that is why he doesn’t like the park, go to www.dacvb.org where you can find a board certified veterinary behaviorist to help you. In the meantime, accept your dog’s lack of sociability as long as it is not dangerous to you, him, or others.
Dr. Lisa Radosta