Public Property

Apr 24, 2017

Well we are back from our lovely 10-day break and very welcome it was: glorious weather, no work and the fun of puppy, Otter, learning about campervaning! She did brilliantly as it turned out. Travelled well, settled well when necessary, and coped well with all the new experiences and lack of routine. All in all a lot of fun.

But travelling with a small and (unquestionably!) cute puppy did bring home to me how many times she was considered public property. People stopped in the street and started cuddling her. Children reached out to touch her as they passed. Sometimes they asked us first, sometimes they asked her but often they just went straight in to touch her without asking anyone!

This view of a dog as public property is not something that I have had much of a problem with before Otter. The Maremmas and, more recently, Roo the Kangal, were big enough to make people think twice about approaching without asking and our Smooth Collies and Lurcher it seems were not “cute” enough to attract this kind of attention.

But Otter is different. She is like a magnet. Everywhere we went she was surrounded by people wanting to touch her and fuss her! Thankfully Otter adores humans, especially young ones, so much of the time she was a willing participant in this public love-in. But sometimes, especially when she was tired or hungry, or when movements were sudden or hands careless, she would back off or try to avoid and we had to step in to protect her space.

Even when our dogs are sociable, it is important that they are still given a choice in whether or not they interact. Like us, sometimes they will prefer to be left alone and that is OK. It is lovely that people want to admire our dogs but sometimes we need to remind them that our dogs are not public property. Interaction can be requested, attention can be offered. But the ultimate decision about whether to engage with them should always rest with the dog.

And when that interaction is not welcome, it is up to us to step in. We need to advocate for our dogs, politely decline attention, explain that our dog needs space right now. We do not need to be rude but we do need to mean it and be prepared to enforce it, if necessary removing our dog from unwelcome encounters.

Ultimately, if your dog never wants to interact with any stranger ever, that is their choice. And it is fine. There is no rule that says dogs should be sociable with strangers. No law that says they must say hello just because a human wants to.

Of course if both parties are willing and enthusiastic there can be nothing nicer: Otter had a ball schmoozing strangers wherever she went. But it had to be her choice - and it was up to us to ensure she could make it.

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