Have I Been Wrong All This Time?

I’m very rarely embarrassed by Silas anymore. I’ve sprinted through parking lots. I’ve turned tail and run from people with perfectly friendly dogs in the park. I’ve scowled at children. I’ve rejected a lot of treats. Whatever.

The only thing that still gets me is Silas’s stranger behavior. He has a routine that looks a lot like this:

1) Silas sees a person
2) Silas hauls me toward them
3) They see him and start saying how adorable he is
4) As we reach them, they reach down to pet him
5) and he starts barking at them

This barking is never as serious as when he decides to really bark at someone, but it’s still scary when he’s so close. He doesn’t do it with everyone. Some people he genuinely adores, and some people get his super-submissive “just let me cower down here and pee on your shoes” routine.

Today in the park, a woman on a bike pulled over to ask if Silas was a whippet. Nope; just a mutt. She was preparing to dismount and begin petting, so I said, “He’s a little skittish.”

At which point she looked down at Silas, who was bodily dragging me over to see her, and said “Really? He looks pretty happy to me.” Which, you know, was totally true. When I stopped short so that she couldn’t reach out for him, he started trying to climb on a picnic table to see her better. Feeling a little silly, I said, “If you tried to pet him, he would bark at you.” I could tell this for a fact. I can’t pinpoint it, but something about his body language was very telling.

After she biked away, I started thinking. I’ve always assumed that the greet-and-bark victims were somehow frightening upon closer inspection. They reached down to quickly, or smelled funny, or something. I wonder if, instead, he’s just getting too excited?

It’s one of those cases where the answer doesn’t really matter. No matter why he does it, I need to do a lot of work with people. Still, it’s a possibility that I find very comforting.

6 thoughts on “Have I Been Wrong All This Time?

  1. Oh WOW! This post so speaks to me, Jess!!!
    Dixie also lunges toward people – and also barks at them. She not only barks if they reach down to pet her, but also if they STOP petting her, or often if I don’t let her reach them.
    Some people are understandably fearful or annoyed of the dog lunging and barking.
    A few… don’t seem to care. They interpreted it as her wanting to meet them.
    Regardless, in an effort to relax *my* end of the leash a bit… I have started thinking of it as “excitement to meet a person”. Instead of saying ‘no’ or “leave it”, I’ve started saying “maybe that person doesn’t want to say hi to you, Dixie” and kept going. If the person really does want to say hi, I’ve been asking them to let her sniff them first – before reaching to pet her… like you, I thought maybe someone leaning over her was intimidating.
    Today we met our neighbor across the lot. He was on his (fenced) patio. Dixie was trying to stick her nose under the fence… he has a dog and she knows it. She barked at him. He reached down toward her anyway (not touching her)… she still barked. It didn’t seem like a frightened bark.
    I don’t know. It still seems our best successes are when we meet someone outside our home, and if I don’t limit her rushed approach, and let her jump on them (I know, very rude), and they just stand there and let her.
    Something for us to work on. But your post gave me more to think about!


    1. Honestly, I think with any barking behavior, it’s almost impossible to know what is “really” going on. I tend to over-reach for the “OMG my dog is a psychopath” explanation. In reality, I think there’s a lot more to it than that.

      I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the line between a logical label (my dog has a genetic fear issue) and a self-limiting belief (my dog can’t handle XY and Z). I think this realization is coming from that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. But don’t you also think that most people have horrible dog greeting manners?

    My Honey is perfectly socialized and loves people. But I’ve observed that she’s not as happy with some people’s greetings as they think she is.

    She doesn’t bark. But she does subtly pull back or turn her head aside.

    It happened the other night when we were eating in an upscale restaurant. One of the waitresses came over and insisted on getting right in Honey’s face and soliciting “kisses.”

    It took some effort to move Honey’s admirer off.

    If Silas pulls toward something interesting and they greet him appropriately (approaching slowly, from the side, not making eye contact, and giving a hand to sniff), is he less likely to bark? Or will his barking be less frantic?

    I’m really curious. Because I notice that lots of people who “love” dogs don’t understand them very well. And if Honey was timid around people, I suspect I’d be seeing some barking in response to rude greetings.


  3. Could be! I know a lot of reactive dogs are just excited and settle down once they actually meet the other dog.

    I often feel damned if I do, damned if I don’t with Kaya & Norman. Even though we go to off leash places, some people are still bothered by dogs coming up to them. If someone gets annoyed, I feel hyper-sensitive and attempt to keep them from the next couple people we encounter. Inevitably, those people want to meet the dogs and seemed baffled that I am calling them away. Then I am left wondering, do they think I’m mean to my dogs, do they think my dogs are dangerous and I’ve aided to the negative image of pit bulls, do they just think I am a grumpy, anti-social person who keeps my dogs from having any fun or interactions? Sigh… Then I realize I’m being ridiculous, go back to normal and the process may repeat itself:/


  4. Interesting the comment about “giving a hand to sniff”. Dixie does *worse* in that scenario.
    In her best scenario, the person continues to stand fully upright and basically “ignores” her. She seems to feel the least threatened in that instance. She’ll either take her time, sniffing their feet and legs… or if for some reason she “likes” them, jump on them and hug their leg… or, if she does *not* like them (usually meaning they’ve come to our door, so “her” territory rather than “neutral” territory, she’ll jump on them and continue barking.

    If they bend over to pet her or offer a hand for sniffing, she barks frantically.

    Now, Dixie is a small dog, only 13 lbs… so someone bending over to offer a hand may be more intimidating to her than it would be a larger dog.

    I’ve often wondered if that’s why she tends to be better with small children. They don’t tower over her and even if they reach to pet her, they’re not bending over her to do so.


  5. This “How to Greet a Dog Chart” is something I bring up ALL the time, but I think it is really eye-opening for some people:
    So many people (especially people who have never owned a dog, understandably, or who have only owned super friendly dogs) just assume all dogs are like cartoon 1950s dogs and that you can do anything and all they want is to loved on. But no, they’re really just like people and the chart illustrates it brilliantly.
    Our dog will do something similar and I interpret it as she already feels a little anxious on the leash because running away is no longer an option, she’s attached to me. So her “defense” is to put on an offense move, strangers need to get checked out and if she approaches them first she has the upper hand. Then she can decide how she feels about them. Standing her ground and barking at them makes her feel empowered – because guess what? 99% of the time, a stranger doesn’t want to be barked at and they leave. So in her mind, she’s gotten them to go away through her actions.


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