When Dogs Need Personal Space

Personal Space there are a number of organisations out there who promote awareness of the fact that some dogs need their own space and prefer not to be approached… we would like to join them in raising awareness of this issue.

I’m sure like us, most of you fellow dog owners out there know a young child, perhaps even not so young, who loves to come up to your dogs and give them a cuddle (and treat them like dolls or teddies)… sometimes this can be A BIG ‘NO, NO” and this is one of the most important things we need to teach children. Dogs do not naturally like being confined in an embrace – A CUDDLE IS NOT NATURAL BEHAVIOUR FOR A DOG.

There are a number of reasons why dogs might not be comfortable being approached or why their owner may not want them to be approached; they could:

  1. Be just an old or nervous dog who doesn’t want or like attention and if this is forced on them, they could respond negatively (we’d put our eldest in this category, although she’s rarely aggressive because of this – she will normally seek to remove herself from the situation even if only by turning away)
  2. Have been attacked by another dog or treated badly by a person – dogs who have had a bad experience can have associations with certain types, colours, sizes; or breeds of dogs or with the specific way someone looks; or a particular word or gesture – and we can only guess what the trigger will be
  3. Be recovering from an operation or have or be recovering from an illness or disease that may be infectious or causes them to be more nervous than usual
  4. Be a female in season, in which case the approach from a male – whether neutered or not – will probably be unwelcome (that’s another whole topic in itself)
  5. Be a puppy, young dog or other dog in training, where the approach from someone else or another dog may be an unwelcome distraction
  6. Be a dog who has not been socialised properly and hasn’t learned dog language!

These dogs are not necessarily nasty or aggressive – they just have different rules about their personal space. Many may even enjoy the company of some other dogs… our eldest is very happy with the company of our youngest and often asks her to play.

Even between dogs it is normal for dogs to communicate whether or not they want to be approached and they will observe and respect the signals they are given.

Our eldest Border Collie is a nervous dog and will give clear signals to other dogs that she does not want to be approached, initially by turning her head away, by turning her whole body away, by walking away and even lying down facing away.

You may not know that not all dogs understand dog language, this is the subject of another article of mine (“Why You Might Need To Teach Dog Language To Your Dog”). It is certainly true that very few people and not even many dog owners, understand dog language and some may have learned very painful lessons as a result!

There are so many dogs around these days that they are hard to avoid and, whether or not people have a dog in the family, it would be sad if parents simply taught their children to avoid dogs. It would be much better to teach children some essential dog language basics to keep them safe around the dogs that inevitably they will encounter in their everyday lives.

While out on our walks we often meet children who are frightened of dogs (this was one of the main reasons we decided to specialise in helping with relationships between children and dogs) and very often they do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what they need to do to avoid being approached by even a friendly dog (but that’s a whole separate topic and covered in another article)!

Here we are dealing with when a dog is the one who seeks to be left alone… so here are some simple explanations of a few common dog warning behaviours – if a dog:

  1. Walks away – it means they want to be left alone
  2. Has a closed mouth, head turned and looking away – it means they want to be left alone
  3. Has eyes wide (round in shape, rather than almond-shaped), ears back and mouth closed – this means they find the situation confrontational
  4. Is yawning and/or lip licking; and/or stretching – this means that they find the situation stressful
  5. Has their tail raised vertically – it is better not to mess with them right now they have a point to make!
  6. Is showing the lower part of the white of the eye in a half-moon shape – it is likely that they have already told you they are uncomfortable with the situation
  7. Is wagging their tail low – they are uncomfortable with the situation
  8. Has their tail tucked between their back legs – this means they are very anxious or frightened
  9. Backs away when approached – this means they are anxious or frightened
  10. Barks while backing away – they have probably already told you they are unhappy and are now getting angry!

What is the right way to behave?

In any case we need to teach children that it is important to always seek permission from the dog owner before approaching any dog, just as it is important for dog owners to ask before allowing their dog to approach someone else’s.

If you are a dog owner, you should be aware that not all other owners want their dog to be approached. When you approach someone who has their dog on the lead, you should put yours back on the lead unless it is clear that there is no issue. Of course if you are within distance or can otherwise communicate with the other owner and they indicate that it is OK for your dog to approach theirs, then it is acceptable to leave your dog loose.

Sometimes permission to approach with your dog, whether given or refused, can be inferred from the actions of the other owner, for example if they allow their leashed dog to stop and sniff your leashed dog; or they cross the road or turn and walk the other way, then you will get the point.

If in doubt it is always best to ask.

Here are 10 things parents need to teach their children about dogs:

  1. Never pet a dog without letting the dog see you and sniff you first
  2. Never approach a dog who is not with their owner
  3. Ask permission from you and the owner before they pet another person’s dog
  4. If a dog owner cannot control their dog, hold them or have them sit nicely to be petted, then don’t pet the dog – walk away
  5. Never try to approach a dog who is confined on a lead, in a car or behind a fence
  6. Never tease a dog or try to reach through fences or windows to pet them
  7. Never disturb a dog who is sleeping, eating or tending to puppies
  8. Just because a dog wags its tail doesn’t mean it is friendly or wants to play
  9. Never chase a dog and don’t run away from a dog that chases you – stand still, arms by your sides, be quiet (no screaming!) – or turn your back and walk calmly away from the dog
  10. If you find an injured dog, don’t touch it, find an adult to help.

If you are interested in more information about the organisations who promote awareness of the fact that some dogs need their own space, here are details of just a few of them:

  • DINOS (Dogs In Need Of Space) in the USA
  • Yellow Dog UK
  • Yellow Dog Australia.

Go To http://www.DogsandKids.co.uk where you can find a growing wealth of useful information about dogs and the relationships we have with them… as well as links to our Facebook and Twitter pages where we share even more hints and tips. You can also sign up for tailor made private or group consultations to help improve your relationship with your dog by transforming their behaviour!