Many of the dog issues we see from day to day have to do with people assuming dogs have the same emotional structure we do.
We often see dogs that are given way too much credit for being "nice", when in fact they have aggression or dominance issues. We see dogs that are labeled mean or aggressive when the owners just haven't decided the dog needs ANY guidance or discipline or exercise.
So what is 'acceptable' behavior from a dog? I suppose you could make a distinction: What is 'acceptable' in your home if you and your pack are the ONLY ones ever affected by your dog; versus what is acceptable behavior towards others (dogs and humans!).
Few dogs live in a home only to ever see the owners. Most are out here and there, going on walks, going to the groomer, visiting the vet, etc. Therefore, I feel that acceptable behavior is that other dogs will not jump on me, will not focus on my privates, sticking their nose where I'd rather not have it.
Essentially the dog should show ambivalence to others - or maybe: just good manners.
Most dogs are friendly and interested in people. We have a four year old Golden Retriever that HAS to meet people. He's a recent adoption and is learning manners, but still wants to nuzzle, etc. We're getting there. The challenge is that dogs that jump on people don't know the physical difference between a healthy 14 year old, an 18 month old, or an 80 year old with one hip and two knee replacements. Where we can visually judge that a certain person is frail, the dog doesn't know. So, a dog not jumping on people to me is non-negotiable.
But let's talk about dogs that are dangerous. You could certainly argue that an 85 pound Labrador that jumps on people is dangerous! However, many people are afraid a dog will bite them. There was a recent article published in the Akron Beacon Journal about dogs attacking humans. This is an extreme case, but it's something I remind every single client:
At one point, 10,000 years ago or so, your dog was a wolf.
The quicker we remember that, the more easily we can understand their emotions and communicate with them. It is a factor in their metabolism, the way they communicate, the way the form 'friendships', the reason they have to sniff and more.
What dogs are dangerous? Ones that are nervous, scared, incredibly hungry, in new situations, pregnant, under stress and more. That means when somebody says, "Sassy growls, shows her teeth, but she's never bitten anyone!" In my mind, I add "yet". I can't imagine a scenario where my German Shepherd or Golden Retriever would bite someone, but I've seen dogs nip, bite and otherwise be very aggressive to the "hand that feeds them". What might they do to someone they don't know?!
So, how do you know? A given dog, in a given situation, is a 50/50 toss up. Certainly we can make educated guesses, but the most important point I need to stress here is that if you have children, remember to ASK the owner about approach. At least you've engaged them and involved them in decision making. In our profession, we often have to put ourselves 'at risk' in order to save a dog, but most people aren't trained to do that. If you have small children that may like to color, feel free to download and print our coloring sheet that teaches kids "DOG" ABC's ; Always Ask Before Cuddling!
Grant Holmes is a Dog Obedience Professional and the owner of Perfectly Pawsible Dog Obedience & People Training. He loves working one on one with your dog in your home, working on the goals you've set for obedience & behavior! Any dog, any size, any challenge.
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