There is a little known secret amongst most dog trainers: as a rule, we don’t touch dogs. When we see dogs in class, on the street, or even at a friend’s house, we DON’T touch them. This obviously comes from a “safety first” perspective. We’re taught that all dogs have the ability to bite and it’s not good to touch unsuspecting dogs. Plus, there is a respect factor. Do you like it when strangers touch you? Most of us would say no, and dogs deserve the same respect.
It’s an unusual show in that the public is allowed to go to the back (the benches) and walk through to see the dogs when they aren’t in the show ring. You can see some sleeping, some getting groomed, and you even get to touch a few. I have been going to this show since I was a kid, and I’ve gone every year of my professional life. I love watching the dog and people behavior, but I almost never had the urge to touch. But this year…this year, there was something in the air.
Perhaps it was the fact that one of the first dogs I saw was a five month old St. Bernard puppy. Not only am I a sucker for a big dog, but St. Bernards are in my top three dogs to eventually own. Plus, it was a puppy, and how could you not want to smoosh its face? So I elbowed some kids to make my way through, played with the puppy who was so excited to see everyone he barely noticed me before he got up and walked away. Well, I left that experience a changed dog show observer. I suddenly felt the need to touch all the dogs. I petted the Leonberger puppies. I made out with the Newfoundlands. I stuck my face in the face of a six month old Alaskan Malamute puppy. It was completely out of character for me, but nonetheless amazing.
The moral of this story is to NOT start touching every dog you see. In fact, these dogs are very rare, as the behavior in a show dog can vary drastically from our pet dogs. These dogs are generally used to being handled by strangers, and, to be fair, not all of them like the show life. I touched a few dogs that I knew didn’t like it. As I was petting them, I could see the discomfort in their body language, but the thing is — I did it anyway. Like I said, there was something in the air.