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Is your dog too pretty for their own good?

When the poet, Benjamin Alire Saenz, said "I was in love with the innocence of dogs, the purity of their affection. They didn't know enough to hide their feelings. They existed. A dog was a dog," I wonder if he'd ever met a reactive dog?

I agree a dog’s open heart is one of the greatest things on earth. On the flipside, a scared dog who expresses themselves through aggression, is maybe not so wonderful!

Regardless, there’s no denying that our dogs bring us a unique joy I, for one, wouldn’t want to live without. Even dogs like my Shadow Dawn, who is fear aggressive to the point of biting, brings me joy.

She’s also objectively beautiful; a supermodel of dogs. Seriously, people take pictures of her on the street and stop to remark on her loveliness. It happened again yesterday as we were running errands. Shadow had her head out the car window and a man from the car behind us leaned out to take her picture during the red light.

In Shadow’s case, and in the case of many of my clients, having an attractive or adorable reactive dog is a double-edged sword. On one side it’s nice that people think your dog is pretty, while on the other hand, the attention it brings can often cause more reactive behavior. Have you ever found yourself wishing your dog was hideous? Maybe I don’t go that far, but it’s one of those weird problems you don’t know exists until you live it.

Shadow’s what’s called a “blue nose” Pitbull which is uncommon and part of what draws people to her ⬇️(not sure this picture does her justice).⬇️

So, what can we do about it? Here are a few tips on how to advocate for your dog and deter people who want to pet them when you know it will upset your dog (or just don't want them to).

1. Make it Visually Clear: Equip your dog with a vest or bandana that says "Do Not Pet" or "Nervous Dog." This is a straightforward way to communicate your dog's needs to others without having to explain.

2. Use Your Words:: Don’t be afraid to speak up, even assertively when necessary. It's not rude to politely & firmly say, “No. Please don’t pet my dog. She’s nervous/reactive/working/doesn't feel well/etc.” Most people will understand and respect your request.

3. Physically Block Access: Use the technique of "body blocking" to position yourself between your dog and the approaching person. This creates a physical barrier to keep people from getting too close to your dog & gives your dog a sense of security that you're handling things. You can also use body blocking to block your dog's view of their triggers when necessary!

4. Empower Your Dog: Teach your dog to stand behind you or between your knees to help them feel safe, stay in charge of the situation & signal to the other person that your dog is unavailable for petting.

5. Plan Your Trip: Choose walking routes & times of day that are less crowded to minimize encounters with people who may want to pet your dog.

6. Advocate & Educate: When you have time, and feel like it, there can be value in sharing a brief explanation of why someone can't pet your dog. Let people know that petting a nervous or reactive dog can actually make things worse for the dog and for themselves.

7. Be Cool, Calm & Confident: Your demeanor can the tone of the interaction. If you convey friendly authority, people are far more likely to listen and comply with your requests.

Never feel embarrassed or shy about advocating for your dog’s needs. You're their parent and you know best. Knowing you'll stand up for their rights is crucial to your dog's well-being as well as your peace of mind. It’s okay to set boundaries and ensure your dog - and you - feel safe and comfortable.

Have you ever had an experience when someone didn't listen to you when you asked them not to pet your dog? Share your experiences in the comments!


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