Now that you know what Fluffybutts is all about, let’s talk about forcing interaction.
We’ve all seen it. On the street, in the park, even in our homes. When someone – an overenthusiastic child, an adult that doesn’t know better, a baby that can’t understand – sees a pet and immediately gets in their space and tries to touch or cuddle them. To some that may not seem a big deal. Your pet should be tolerant of being touched and cuddled, right? Wrong. There are many temperaments and personalities of pets, as many as there are of people. Some don’t like having their space invaded. Some don’t like being touched by strangers. Some don’t like being cuddled (Morgana, featured above, is one such pet).
And that’s when bites and/or scratches happen.
Is it the fault of that pet? I truly don’t believe so. Why? Because the person who invaded their space, touched them, or tried to cuddle them, was not reading their signals and was not respecting their nature. In the world we live in today, though, it’s usually the pet that pays the price.
What if I teach my pet to tolerate being approached and petted by strangers, you ask?
If you can manage that with your particular pet, great! Not all pets are going to take to that lesson, though. Let me explain this in another way. You’re walking down the street, minding your own business, when someone suddenly comes right up into your personal space and gives you a hug, kisses your face, rubs your back, and tells you how adorable you are. What would your reaction be? You don’t know this person. They invaded your personal space without invitation. They’re touching you without permission. How do you react? Most of us would react by pushing them away. Others would warn them verbally to back off and leave them alone. While some would react more violently by slapping or punching them.
Dogs and cats, being quadrupeds, don’t have the ability to push someone away. So what do they do instead? They growl, hiss, struggle, scratch, and bite, because that’s the only way they know to make someone back off.
Then what can we do to prevent people approaching your pet without permission and possibly inciting some kind of attack? Well, there are several options available.
First, you can socialize your pet from a young age. This is a preventative measure that works well for most pets. The more they get used to being around strangers, having good experiences with people and other pets, the less likely it is they’ll react violently to someone randomly loving on them.
Second, teach your children to respect your pet’s space. Whether dog or cat, this is a good lesson to learn. If you watch cats when one approaches another, even if they know each other, they’ll often approach slowly, sniff noses, and then walk away. Dogs, if they’re properly socialized with other dogs, will also learn to respect the space of their fellow canines. I’ve observed many overenthusiastic dogs, sometimes even our own Luna Lovegood, invade the space of an older dog. This is very rude behavior. Puppies learn this from their mother. If Mom wants her space, she’ll growl, and if the pups persist, give them a light nip. In this way, they learn to respect another dog’s space.
In my experience, it’s best to use the tried and true method of teaching your children to hold their hand out for the dog or cat to sniff and let the pet decide whether to approach or not. That does not mean that they should thrust their hand right into the pet’s face. Teach them to hold out their hand at least a couple feet away. Upon approach, I’d even suggest teaching your children not to immediately hug, cuddle, or pick them up. Why? Because the sniffing of the hand was only a greeting in their language. Many pets will have yet to decide if they really want to be touched. So teach your children to watch for your pet’s signals. A wagging tail and enthusiastic licks from a dog and rubbing and purring from a cat are very obvious signals saying it’s okay to touch that are easy to teach. Opposite signals are also easy to teach. A dog or cat turning and walking away is a clear signal that they don’t want to be touched. Growling and lifting the lip from a dog and flattened ears and hissing from a cat are also clear signals that they want nothing to do with being touched. Teach your children to then leave them alone! This is imperative to prevent your own child from being bitten or scratched by the family pet.
Babies and toddlers are another matter. They’re too young to understand how to approach or even gently touch a pet. For this reason, a baby or toddler should NEVER be left unsupervised with the family pet. It only takes a second for them to decide to grab and pull on an animal’s fur, ears, or tail and provoke an attack. Even the most docile of dogs and cats can end up biting or scratching a baby or toddler under these circumstances because being pulled on like that hurts! The pet is only doing what’s logical to make them let go. I repeat, NEVER leave your baby or toddler unsupervised with the family pet.
Third, to deter strangers from suddenly approaching your dog while you’re out walking them, there are vests you can buy for them to wear that clearly say STOP DO NOT APPROACH or TRAINING STOP DO NOT DISTRACT or DO NOT PET. Most even include a picture of a stop sign or a raised hand and are often a bright red or orange color – colors associated closely with caution and danger.
Fourth, simply tell them not to touch your pet. This might seem rude, but it’s far better than risking an attack. You can always then let them know that your pet is in training or just doesn’t like strangers. An explanation like this will usually give someone a better reason to remember to ask permission to touch your pet the next time you see them.
There are also service dogs to consider. These dogs often have very tolerant and docile temperaments and are socialized from a young age so they won’t have a bad reaction to a stranger approaching them. This does not mean, however, that people should approach or pet or snuggle a service dog. These dogs are working dogs. They have a job to do. Distracting them from that job can have disastrous results. One unfortunate incident comes to mind. 16-year-old Hailey Ashmore owns a service dog named Flynn. Flynn’s job is to alert Hailey about 10 minutes before a seizure hits. This allows her time to get into a safe position, take her medication, and call someone for help. While visiting her father someone distracted Flynn from his job and he didn’t alert her on time. Thankfully, all that resulted were a few rather nasty rug burns, but the consequences of her distracted partner could have been much worse. Imagine if she was standing on a concrete floor and wasn’t alerted in time for an oncoming seizure. Imagine what it would be like to hit that floor and then seize uncontrollably on it. DO NOT distract a service dog, no matter how cute or friendly they seem!
You can find the rest of Hailey’s tragic incident in this story by Beth Callen, here: http://toprightnews.com/people-started-to-pet-her-service-dog-thats-when-they-learned-a-hard-lesson/
Or in this story by Regina Lizik, here: http://stories.barkpost.com/do-not-pet-service-dog/
Have you encountered a situation like this? What did you do when someone approached your pet? What was your pet’s reaction? Please share your story in the comments; I would love to hear about your experiences!
Have suggestions or questions? Comment below!