As I walk around my neighbourhood with my dogs, it did occur to me that many people didn’t grow up with dogs and all they know is from the media, personal experiences, and from those they know and meet.
What gets filtered into their world is often skewed, misinterpreted and misinformed, giving them a less than truthful portrayal of a dog. The sad thing is that their fear is transmitted (sometimes forced) onto their children. I often see curious and happy children wanting to meet the dogs being yanked away by their guardians. I’m not saying that we should let our children meet every Spot, Rufus, or Lassie that comes their way. Interactions between children and animals, especially initial ones, need to be positive and supervised. But to project your fear onto a child who’s merely but proudly naming “dog” instills unnecessary fear which grows into bigger fears.
So here are a couple of observations from people’s initial interactions with my two dogs.
1. It’s not the size or the breed.
Most people are more scared of big dogs than little ones. Yes, I understand their size can be daunting but honestly the big breeds we usually see in Singapore – labs, golden retrievers – are known for their friendliness. They are popular precisely because of this breed characteristic. And because of their size, owners are more likely to have good training for them.
I love small dogs. I’ve had many small dogs myself. Don’t get me wrong but many small dogs are undersocialized and end up having a size-complex and can be jittery and unpredictable. Perhaps it’s because some owners tolerate their quirks more, as “cute” or think that small dogs can always be picked up so training is not seen as important as for larger ones. Perhaps it’s because small dogs are more popular they are more overbred, bred for looks and size.
Which brings me to the next sub point – breed! People LOVE goldies because they are gorgeous and boast breed qualities like friendly, affectionate, intelligent, and easy going. What people need to remember is that these are breed standards, which do not always exist in any particular dog.
This is especially true for popular breeds which tend to be overbred (high marketability for profit). A responsible breeder only breeds dogs with mental, emotional, and physical stability and those who portray desirable qualities. Dogs with aggression and health issues like hip dysplasia for example would not be bred.
With such a huge market for purebreeds, puppy mills and backyard breeders sprout up like weeds and breed for volume, quantity over quality. This means that just because you have a lab or a goldie doesn’t mean you have a well-adjusted and balanced dog.
2. Not all dogs are overtly affectionate
Just because a dog is not vigorously wagging her tail, licking you, and loving your pets doesn’t mean the dog is not friendly. Some dogs, like some people, are just not that into people. Blackspot, for example, will take food over a pet any day but this doesn’t mean she doesn’t love a good cuddle or pets…when she wants it. This is, of course, in stark contrast to Creamy who will go up to strangers looking for attention. Every dog is different.
3. Dogs are naturally curious
And dogs “see” the world through their nose. So this combo means that dogs like to get up close and personal to check you out, especially if you have food on you. This could mean a drop of sauce or a speck of crumb!
Generally dogs are pretty obedient so if you call out to them, they’ll naturally want to come say hi! So if you don’t actually want a dog to come to you, it’s probably best not to call or whistle to them. Making cat noises or dog barks is just plain impolite.
4. What a leash is for
A leash is required when walking dogs in public. Some dogs need a leash because they do need to be restrained from eating all sorts of crap. Some dogs need a leash so they don’t run willy nilly…into the road. Some dogs simply don’t need a leash.
A leash is a finite length of well-tested material so there is a defined circumference around the handler that a dog can go. So if a dog is at the end of the leash and there is like 5 feet between you and the dog, you can keep walking without being disturbed by the dog.
Retractable leashes are another story but most dog walkers are pretty good with letting pedestrians by, especially if it’s obvious they are fearful of dogs. Just politely let them know if it’s not clear.
5. What a muzzle is for
In some countries, like Singapore, a muzzle is required for certain breeds when in public. These breeds have been decided at one point to be aggressive and to help the public feel safer, all dogs of these breeds must wear this badge. This is prejudice as there are no aggressive breeds, only aggressive dogs, and aggressive dogs are a result of human actions – poor and irresponsible breeding and improper training techniques (ie those that use fear). Sometimes aggression comes from unresolved trauma or physical pain, both of which is also the owner’s responsibility.
So just because a dog has a muzzle on please don’t assume it’s because the dog is aggressive. It’s just a public interest policy and a politically-motivated move.
And not all devices on and around the dog’s muzzle is a muzzle. There are different walking leashes that go on the snout such as the Gentle Leader and Halti. It’s a way of leading dogs by the head, rather by the neck, to make walking easier, without being pulled by your dog.