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Thursday, 29 December 2011

Give a dog a bone? No. Give a dog A CHOICE...

I was reading this blog today and it never ceases to amaze me how you seem to find an article discussing just what you have been thinking about recently.

As my regular readers will know, I've got a life-term foster dog.  He's a 5yr neutered male Neapolitan Mastiff who bounced from his two previous homes for health reasons but also because of his severe neophobia (fear of novel stimuli).

When he bounced the second time, I promised him he never again have to endure another massive trauma (for him) of changing homes.  So here he will stay unless I can find him another person who can actually guarantee his behavioural and physical health management.

The reason I've been thinking so much lately of the irony of my work with him is that over the past 18 months he has gradually overcome the worst of his behavioural problems and he is now only mildly neophobic.  However, while he is now much more comfortable with new people approaching him, I find myself leading him away from people.

Reasons for this? (yeah I had to think about why I was doing this too...)

1.  When you say 'yes, you can come and say hello to him' (that's when they even bother to ask..) people just seem incapable of being polite to a dog.  They will approach making lots of noises, bending down over him, touching and smacking his head.  If they did that to me I'd slap them, but people think it's okay to do that to a dog they don't know.

2.  Being a Neapolitan Mastiff, I am loathe to give people the impression that this breed can actually tolerate this type of personal violation of space so that they will go online when they go home and get one as a family pet.  Only last week I was desensitising him to a lively child on a bike when the boy's father attempted to walk right over to us, saying how beautiful he was and enquiring what breed he was (to which I ALWAYS reply 'just a crossbreed').  If I hadn't physically blocked the man, he would have thought nothing of invading both mine and my dog's personal space.

Having worked in the welfare of this breed for about 7 or 8 years now, I have lost all empathy with people who go out and buy a Neapolitan Mastiff as a family pet 'because I love the way they look' and then want to get rid of them when their true nature surfaces at sexual maturity.

So... I find myself verbally or even physically blocking people when they ask 'is he friendly?'.  I find myself saying 'No' and then praising my dog warmly for walking on peacefully.  Why SHOULD I subject him to the risk of having all of our work undone by one ignorant person who frightens him with their approach?  Why SHOULDN'T he be able to go for a peaceful walk without being accosted by people who he would actually rather not interact with?

I always know a true dog person.  Someone who stands back, asks me if THE DOG would like to say hello and simply waits for an answer, then waits to see if the dog would actually like to approach for a sniff.  No approaching, no hard eye contact or unpredictable moves, no violation of his personal space, no intimidation.  

Most importantly, a true dog person simply smiles back and nods 'of course' if you say no or THE DOG says no.  

Next time you see a dog you would like to say hello to, just wait and watch.  You could be surprised when you actually give the dog some choice in the matter...