Silas Doesn’t Like to be Touched

(Apple Dumpling Gang reference, anyone? Sorry, I couldn’t bring myself to write the necessary “don’t.”)

We took Silas back home to see our families for five days. (And just now got back. Ignore any uncharacteristic errors here.) That visit will, I’m sure, appear here in a lot of ways over the next few days. Most interestingly, I finally put together one of the missing links in his behavior.

Silas reacts to strangers erratically, and one of my missions is to figure out what the real pattern is so that we can work on it. My family is one of my most compelling case studies. He adores my parents, and he even likes my nephew. (Okay, okay, at 14 my nephew is a head taller than me. He hardly looks or sounds like a kid anymore.) Except for my husband’s grandparents, he does not like my in-laws. While there are definitely some jokes that I could make there, my in-laws don’t really merit them.

In fact, I was a little confused. My in-laws are dog people. All of them–aunts, uncles, grandparents–have or have had dogs that they adored. My family is the opposite. My mother has never, ever admitted to liking a dog before Silas. (Even then she hasn’t admitted to it, but one day I caught her breaking off sections of her popsicle for him.)

On this trip I finally put it together. All those dog people want to love Silas. They want to pet him. They want to rub his ears and scratch his head and rub his belly. My non-dog people go about their regular lives. They ignore Silas, as much as you can ignore a dog with that much anxiety. My dad has very thin skin thanks to his medications, and he barely dares to pet my wild dog even when Silas is looking for attention. Silas adores them for it. He can ask for exactly what he wants. He’ll nudge his head under Mom’s hand for a minute, or he’ll sit next to Dad’s chair. My father-in-law desperately wants to play and roughhouse with Silas, who consequently goes into an anxious barking tizzy every time they even make eye-contact.

Silas tip #1: be cool. Don’t make the first (or second, or third) move. Above all, NO PETTING. He’ll ask when he’s ready.

6 thoughts on “Silas Doesn’t Like to be Touched

  1. Your poor in-laws, they obviously love Silas and it must have been hard to understand why he didn’t love them in return. But I think you are absolutely right. Shiva still has problems with strangers, probably always will, and it’s the ones who make eye contact with her who set her off the most. She has taught me a lot about dogs because of this. Now whenever I see a dog I don’t know but I would like to meet, I always let the dog come to me first. If he does, great. If he doesn’t, I will admire from afar.


    1. Silas would love you. He’s perfectly happy with a wide variety of people who let him do all the relationship building. And it doesn’t even take too long–I’ve seen him warm up to people almost instantly. He can be your best bud in a minute or two. The only problem is that if you startle him, he never gets over it.


  2. Good pick up. I see the same thing in my own family. My mother will not touch a dog to save her life. Cherie, our foster, had no problem with her. My dad likes dogs but they make him nervous when they get excited. And he never realizes that his actions feed the excitement.

    BTW, my Honey loves attention from everyone. Do you want me to send her to your in-laws so they can get their dog fix and be all calm the next time Silas comes to visit?


    1. I honestly don’t know why they don’t have a dog of their own. They’ve always had dogs. Although, their last one, who died seven or eight years ago, was apparently a handful. Maybe that put them off.


  3. Delilah was similar to this when she came to us, although without the anxiety. She was not a touchy/feely dog, while she never growled at me, she absolutely hated her ears touched. I’m not actually sure when it happened but today she is totally different. She comes up seeking affection and attention, she mimics Sampson, she will let me rub her ears, which elicits a deep, relaxing sigh. She has done a complete 180 and I know under your loving hand, Silas will too.

    There is hope, just keep on doing what you are doing and building up his confidence. 🙂


    1. Fortunately he’s good with us. He isn’t a “velcro dog” by any stretch (he has a lot of terrier independence), but he is pretty happy to ask for his pets when he wants them.

      Sometimes he surprises me. At the vet’s office on Wednesday he went right up to a lady to be petted. Of course, she was doing all his other favorite things–sitting down, talking quietly, being still.


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