I think that most people who have kids will agree with me that, at times, parenting feels like a multi-year nag. “Use your napkin.” “Say please.” “Don’t jump on the couch.” You get the idea. In my house, several of these long standing reminders have to do with dogs. “Don’t put your face in the dog’s face!” and “Don’t get him all riled up!” are perpetual favorites.
The situation occurred when my brother-in-law, his wife and their adorable Yorkie came by for a short visit on their way through town. They live in California, and we don’t get to see them that often. Their little dog, Riff, is friendly, cute and pretty darn irresistible. When they arrived from the airport, they walked into our house holding the dog. My two girls went to greet their aunt and uncle, but then how did they greet the dog? They didn’t! It was a very quiet, but very proud parenting moment.
As dog lovers, I know that my daughters had to override incredibly strong impulses to not reach for the dog, squeal with glee and cover him with kisses. Instead they remembered one of my ongoing nags, “Let the dog come to you.” They realized that a dog held in someone’s arms might not feel comfortable being approached, especially by people he doesn’t know well and in a new environment. The even bigger problem with a dog that’s being held is that he doesn’t really have a choice about the greeting. He can’t move away. So instead, my daughters looked at Riff adoringly, but stood back and waited until he was on the ground and then crouched down and let him approach if he chose to, which he quite happily did.
Not all dogs love to be touched by strangers (do all people?) or feel comfortable around children. If a dog doesn’t approach, kids need to understand that the dog is saying something important by making that choice. We can avoid so many bad interactions between dogs and kids by teaching our children to slow down and not assume that the dog wants to be touched. So nag if you must, but teach your kids to not only ask the owner, but also check with the dog. Eventually, like me, you just may see all those reminders pay off!