At Discover Dogs this weekend I became very aware of a serious problem with society and, in particular with children. I have never experienced so many people touching my dogs without asking. Don’t get me wrong, this is not the children’s fault, if their parents have never taught them how to behave around dogs then how are they to know? As a child it was drilled into me that you NEVER touched a dog without asking their owner first. As someone who has loved dogs from an early age, I understand that sometime you just want to rush over and squish their faces but this is neither appropriate or safe. For some reason, people are not teaching their children the right way to act around dogs and I have no doubt that this could be contributing to the number of dog attacks that have sadly been happening. Dogs don’t usually attack for no reason and if children are not taught how to behave around dogs they could quite easily do something accidentally that may provoke an attack, something that may have been completely avoidable.
For example, at DD I was talking to someone on one of the stand with Colin sat by my leg. The next thing I know, I look down and there is a child with their hand in his mouth and poking his face. Seriously. And the parents? Nowhere to be seen. Now, luckily, Colin was brought up around children and is pretty much bombproof, he can deal with any part of his body being prodded or poke but that is besides the point. That could have very easily led to a nip and Colin being branded as a dangerous dog, possibly even being put down. All because he reacted as most of us would if a random stranger shoved their hand in our mouths. This type of inappropriate behaviour from children (and adults as well!), unfortunately, was not an isolated incident on Saturday. Almost every time I stopped moving to talk to someone, people would come up behind me and start fussing Colin without even acknowledging me. Amy was handling Rhapsody and exactly the same thing was happening to her, possibly even more so. I can count on one hand the number of times someone actually asked if they could stroke them. Amy even got asked by someone if they could pick Rhapsody up. Umm how about no? You’re a total stranger. I wouldn’t randomly ask to hold your baby so please don’t pick up my dog. I guess at least they asked.
Of course, I always let people stroke my two if they ask. And I always make a point of thanking them for asking. They love all the attention, especially from kids. And if Rhapsody wants a cuddle she is more than capable of asking for one, ask anyone that knows her! The point is this: they need to ask and parents should take responsibility for teaching their children this very simple lesson. It is not just children either, there were a lot of adults also touching Colin and Rhapsody without asking. They should all have known better.
Not all dogs are ok with being stroked by strangers and not asking could end badly for the dog, the human, or both. Desmond, for example, will still shy away from any male stranger that tries to touch him (the behaviour dates back to when we first rescued him over seven years ago). To avoid the stress for him I would either ask men not to touch him or show them the best way to introduce themselves slowly to make it a positive experience for him. Not because Des would bite, just because it makes him anxious and that’s not fair on him.
I understand that people are at a show like Discover Dogs to meet and fuss lots of different dogs and that great for the dogs on the breed stands that have been brought specifically for that purpose. People need to realise that just because you are at a dog event does not mean that all the dogs are just there for your petting pleasure. All it takes is a simple “Please can I say Hello to your dog?” to make sure everyone stays safe and has a great experience.
Also, another minor thing. If your child is scared of dogs please don’t bring them to a dog show and try to physically force them to touch every dog there. A phobia is a complex issue and not something that cannot be solved by forcing your child to interact with hundreds of dogs on one day. You will just make it worse. The emotional stress of the situation you are putting your child through could have a devastating and lasting impact. For a child with a severe phobia it could end up being a traumatic event that affects them for the rest of their lives. Do yourself and your child a favour and contact a dog trainer that deals with dog phobias and start from there. Alternatively there are groups around the country set up specifically to help children get over their phobias. One such group, From Fear To Friend (who we saw at Discover Dogs), run free weekly classes on the Sussex/Surrey border with the specific purpose of helping children conquer their fears in a safe enironment. You can find out more about the amazing work they do via their Facebook page.
And that’s all folks! I’ll leave you all with some cute pictures of Colin and Rhapsody enjoying all the attention (from people that asked, of course!).