I’m very disappointed with pet care professionals these days. It seems that, despite working with pets every day (especially dogs), they are completely unaware of how to properly interact with them. I expect John Q. Public to be illiterate when it comes to dog language and behavior. I would hope employees at pet stores and veterinary hospitals would be properly educated. I have not found this to be the case.
Most dogs these employees run into are fine. They don’t mind being petted on the head or being otherwise fawned over. Their eyes are bright, their tongues loll out of their mouths, and they wiggle at the sight of a human being. You can rush up to these dogs, bend over them, and smother them with attention and they eat it up.
However, not every dog is okay with this type of behavior. These dogs do not want human interaction and would be completely fine being ignored entirely. Risa, of course, falls into this category. People scare her even when she’s in a location where she feels comfortable. Take her to a pet store or the vet’s office and she’s already super stressed out. She does not need people trying to become her friend too!
As the owner of a fearful dog, I often find it difficult to stick up for my dog and tell people they cannot interact with her. It’s HARD! People seem to think that they have a right to touch dogs–they don’t. I know when I didn’t have a dog, I wanted to pet them all and be their friends. When we had some down time when I worked at a vet hospital as a receptionist, I was often found in the waiting room petting the dogs awaiting their appointments. I do understand that the interaction with dogs is one of the highlights of those types of jobs. But you cannot be blind to the wants and needs of the dogs you’re trying to befriend. If the dog is not interested in interacting with you, BACK OFF and give them space.
Not only does it stress out the dog and the dog’s owner, it can be dangerous. Fearful dogs are more likely to bite than a confident dog. Not all scared dogs WILL bite but some might. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Seeing dogs clearly uncomfortable and staff pressing their luck stresses me out. Even when it’s not my dog!
I know most people employed in these positions have a way with animals or, at the very least, love them. They really do want to do what’s best and I know most of them are just trying to help. They hope that with a little time and some treats, they can win over the heart of the scared dog. Unfortunately, this is not how it works. Many fearful dogs will never be comfortable meeting strangers.
In a perfect world, veterinarians and pet store managers would educate their staff on how to appropriately assess a dogs’ comfort level. They would take the time to inform them about dogs’ stress signals and how to approach a scared dog should the need arise. The staff would be told that, if a dog is clearly frightened, they should back away and leave the dog alone. I do not believe the responsibility should rest solely on the scared dog’s owner. Many people who own fearful dogs are also unaware of the signals their dog gives that indicate the dog’s discomfort with a situation. If you’re going to work with animals as a professional, you need to be informed. It will keep you safe. It will keep your employees safe. It will keep your clients/customers safe. And dogs like Risa will be happier to come visit!!