This is something that people understand very easily when it comes to interacting with other humans – we don’t sit on the laps of strangers, we don’t hang all over strangers, and most of us don’t excessively hug or kiss strangers.
In fact, getting into another human’s space is such an awkward action, we came up with a standardized way of getting into each other’s space so it doesn’t come off as hostile or awkward – the disarming handshake in our culture (in Europe and other cultures they have a similar, but still easily understood social protocol for entering a person’s space).
However, this basic concept that is so intuitive in our day to day lives with other humans is oddly difficult to apply to our dogs.
People have gone from leading dogs and incorporating them into their lives to using dogs to fulfill an emotional need so much so that they now don’t lead – they just need. People want dogs to jump all over them because it makes the human feel better. People want a dog to be overly-excited when they get home because it makes them feel loved and missed.
This is the modern role of the dog and it’s a role with which they are struggling. They are so confused. Imagine if you went up and greeted people with a big body hug and half of the people were filled with joy and happiness and the other half of them kneed you in the crotch. This is the struggle for a dog these days – the ones who outwardly want to be affectionate with everyone at least.
The ones who aren’t outwardly affectionate are just struggling to keep strangers out of their space, but that’s a whole other topic.
What I find is that the people who are the best with the dogs can follow the simple rule of controlling their own space and at the same time allow dogs to have their own space. In other words, the intimacy is saved for an appropriate place and an appropriate moment.
If you begin to practice the simplest of boundaries (the ones around your own body), you will find that animals will appreciate the direction and respect you immensely.
In other words, don’t need. Lead.
Above is a brief video clip of me working with an old lab that knows no personal boundaries or strangers – a friendly dog by every measure, but you can see his over-excitement and lack of respect for the boundaries of the other dogs and myself is off-putting and even scary for a little dog.
Start working on your own space and see how the dogs will respect you for it!