My fiancé and I have three dogs – all Labrador retrievers. I adore them all equally, but for such different reasons. Like human siblings, my pups might share lineages, but their personalities vary widely.
As a dog mom, I, of course, don’t have a favorite pup. Lenny, the youngest, is the best at cuddling. Miranda, the smallest, is my best running buddy. And Gideon, my biggest, is the only one I can count on to consistently catch a ball when I throw it.
I’ve also found Gideon to be the best at meeting new human friends – especially when those new friends are young children.
Very much still a puppy, Lenny, the yellow lab, often jumps and tries to get a good face lick which, understandably, can frighten children. Miranda, my special girl, has severe anxiety. She’s never snapped at a human before but often fears meeting new people and takes at least a few minutes to warm up to strangers.
Gideon, though – my big, dopey Gideon – sits patiently, listening to any commands I might give him, waiting patiently for his opportunity to meet someone new.
Unfortunately, many kids do not want to meet Gideon initially. Instead, they want to pet tiny, terrified Miranda.
I distinctly remember taking a walk around the Southwood pond one night, Gideon and Miranda leashed and by my side, when two little girls came up and very politely asked if they could pet my dogs. I was so impressed that they asked for permission!
“Please don’t pet the small one,” I said, shortening Miranda’s leash to have better control over her and the situation. “She’s afraid of strangers. But the big one, Gideon, he loves pets!”
To my surprise, both girls both lunged for Miranda, arms open wide, pushing their faces up against hers. My heart beat wildly as Miranda pulled my arm backward in a frantic attempt to flee.
Luckily, the girls only needed a quick reminder to please pet the big dog, and they respectfully listened.
I do understand – and actually relate to – the temptation to pet the smallest, tiniest, pup in the bunch. Miranda looks the safest, the most cuddly; not to mention, she has these big, round, brown eyes that seem to plead with you to pet her. But sometimes, looks can be deceiving! I’ve spent the past three years raising Miranda, and, while she has been nothing but sweet and loving to humans thus far, she does have a lot of nervous energy. So I try to divert attention away from her in stressful situations and toward Gideon, who has been around more children and whose responses to them are more predictable.
Many children might fear Gideon, who, sitting upright, stares them right in the eye because he’s just as big as they are.
They see I’m sure, his oversized jowls often dripping with spit from an exerting – but exciting! – walk. They see his wide-open mouth, and they might forget his big, dopey tongue is sticking out and instead zero in on his large teeth. The focus might be less on how Gideon’s tail is wagging because he’s excited to meet a new friend and more on how loud it thumps when it hits the ground.
I understand. My boy, he’s big. He can be intimidating.
But it’s my job, as my pets’ owner, to be cognizant of their behaviors and warning signs. It’s my job to do everything I can to ensure introductions between my pets and new children are positive experiences for everyone involved. So, when I see Miranda’s tail go between her legs or she runs behind my body and away from the tiny, welcoming arms of children she’s never seen or smelled before, it is my duty to protect not only her but also her new human friends. I promise I am thinking not only of the safety of my pups but also of your children when I direct them away from my littlest girl and ask them to please pet the big dog.
Have you talked to your kids about the importance of asking permission before petting dogs? What tactics have you used in doing so?