Yes? No? Maybe so? Oh, let me count the ways this question could be answered.
If you’re lucky enough to have hit the jackpot with one of those amazing pups who has the disposition and temperament of a Saint (my Emma was like that), then you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. It’s a simple question for you because your dog is a friend to everyone and everything. You can promptly answer with a resounding, “Yes! He’s friendly!”.
Yet, many of us fall into other situations and categories. We’ve got the dog that appears calm and collected because we excel at managing their environment and keeping them comfortable. We avoid their triggers, remain vigilant to surroundings, and commit to training. Some of us actually think our dogs are friendly, but later learn they were shut down, or even the opposite - over aroused. We just weren’t familiar with those signals. Then of course, there’s those pups we pass that obviously aren’t comfortable. They are growling, bearing teeth, lunging, snapping, etc. to change the distressing environment around them. Either way, if you’re like me and you’re training tough cases, then you can probably understand the hesitation and dilemma when trying to decide, “Is my dog friendly?”. It’s just not that simple.
Here’s the thing, behavior changes constantly and quickly. There’s this misconception and generalization we tend to make with dogs. We make these extreme labels to categorize them: “nice dog” or “mean dog”, “good dog” or “bad dog”, “friendly” or “not friendly”. Yet, the truth is that most dogs, just like people, can be amiable in some situations, and not so pleasant in others. One thing you can rely on with a pup, though? Dogs are dogs, and will behave like dogs! I watched a webinar about dog bites and the question posed was, “Why do dogs bite?”. I chuckled at the simplistic truth of an expert panelist’s answer, “Because they’re made to.” There’s no hidden agendas or smokescreens. A dog’s behavior will serve a purpose and be repeated if it works for them – even if we don’t always expect or understand it.
Asking if a pup is friendly seems like such a basic inquiry. Yet, the answer can be complicated. The conversation in our heads when answering can be a back and forth ping pong. It may go something like this. “I mean, yea. My dog is friendly. She enjoys meeting new people. She does get a little nervous each time she pursues an introduction, though. She’s mostly friendly and loves to play with new dogs – if she’s properly introduced to in the backyard on leash. She absolutely loves to play with other dogs, usually! But, the circumstances matter. If she’s on leash for a stroll or a dog is racing towards us, then my answer definitely changes. She is completely not friendly in those situations. We’re working on it, though. So, what exactly do you mean when you ask if my dog is friendly, and how in the world do I answer that in the point two seconds I have to reply before you start reaching out to pet her?”.
It’s summer and there are people and dogs out together everywhere! If you find yourself asking someone this question while moving in to pet their dog or let your social child or pup greet them, stop! Allow ample distance (a minimum of 3-5ft) and time for your question to be answered. Then, proceed accordingly after listening well. You may just find yourself in the delightful position to be a friend to a pup and their person!