Cheryl McLean and her husband raise puppies for Southeastern Guide Dogs. Coach is their fourth puppy to raise. Cheryl is also a librarian at Berkeley Preparatory School and is able to bring her puppies to school. This gives the puppies an amazing variety of exposures. For the last three years the students at Berkeley have raised the money to name her dogs: Berkeley, Joseph A. Merluzzi AKA Jam (after the retiring headmaster) and Coach (Coach Dominick Ciao). This puppy was named by one student, Austin Iglehart, who raised the $3500 himself during Southeastern’s Walkathon.
How to Greet a Dog
I continue to be amazed at how parents will let their children run up to a stranger’s dog and essentially shove their face into an unknown dog’s face never thinking that the dog could be a danger. I was thinking this at a Lion’s fundraising event at a Publix grocery store that would ultimately benefit Southeastern Guide Dogs, when a mom had just shoved her stroller next to my current puppy-in-training, Coach, so her daughter could pet him. Sigh.
It also came to mind the other day when I was on the lower division side of school which houses pre-k through 5th grade, Berkeley Preparatory School is pre-k through 12. Coach had his coat off, which hardly ever happens over in lower division because I would normally be mobbed. Nicely mobbed, but mobbed all the same. I teach the students that if one of my puppies has his blue training coat on, it is the same as Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility! You can’t see him, you can’t call his name! This time, the hallways were clear and I noticed that there were two girls who were standing and staring at Coach.
“Did you want to pet him?” I asked. They nodded and walked over. Southeastern Guide Dogs requires that all of our puppies sit to be greeted and that they remain calm and gentle. If they are not calm and gentle, we are to stop the greeting and remove the puppies. There is a big reason for this. But before I get into that, let me just give you some tips on how to properly greet a dog that you might meet out in public, especially if you might meet one of our puppies-in-training:
Always ask first. When I am explaining the rules of having a puppy-in-training to our students at Berkeley one of the most important things I teach them is there is one question you should always ask me first: Is now a good time? What I tell the kids is that they can’t just run up and pet Coach when the coat is off because I might be trying to get him to go to the bathroom. Depending on where a puppy raiser might be they may or may not be able to take the coat off and let you pet the puppy. Younger pups (under 10 months) may be petted in coat, but again it is up to the raiser’s discretion.
This works out in the world as well. You never know what a person out with their dog is doing. That dog may have good manners but may be averse to strangers. Always ask first.
You don’t want puppies to get the idea that biting on people who are greeting them is acceptable. When the puppy goes to grab your hand or arm, the proper response is to cease all petting, to actually “remove all affection.” I would use that phrase so much with my last puppy that when he went to be bitey the students would say in unison, “Remove all affection!” and lift their hands in the air. The absence of attention gets the puppy’s attention. That’s what you want. Biting = no petting. Licking or being sweet = lots of loving!
You should be putting your puppy in a “sit, stay” to greet people and getting them used to the fact that in order to have people pet them they need to be calm. Allowing them to walk up to people and then jump is unacceptable. Always make sure your dog is ready first.
Which brings me to my next point that I haven’t seen written about much, but is critical.
Do not be afraid to tell people what to do and what not to do
There have been many times when I have had the coat off of Coach and a couple of the high school girls have come in and seen him naked (which is what we call him when he has his coat off!) Some of them will immediately emit a sound that only dogs can hear, it is so high pitched, and run squealing towards him. That is when I stand and put out my hand like a traffic cop: “STOP!” They stop in their tracks. All is quiet. “Be calm.” If it is essential for the dog to be calm, it is also essential for the person to be calm as well! Pet the dog softly. Don’t smack them on the head. A pat on the head is a sure way to get a dog to lift up and grab at your hand. Scratch them under the chin and the chest. Concentrate on petting the body. You might even stop short of the hips in case of hip dysplasia/pain. It’s better to leave the top of the head and ears alone. You never know if a dog has dominance issues or has ear sensitivity or might have an ear infection that day.
Back to My Story
So, my two little lower division girls came over and I put Coach into a “sit.” But he was being a bit of pill and he bit at the leash. The one girl said, “I’m a little afraid of dogs.” The other girl nodded. Coach was yanking at the leash and being silly. He was NOT calm.
I looked up at the girls. “Ladies, let’s do this another day. I want him to be really calm for you and he isn’t having a good day. Can we do that?”
They both nodded and ran off happy. Remember I mentioned the big reason we want the dog calm and gentle? Here’s why: letting those girls pet Coach at that moment could have inadvertently cemented a child’s fear of dogs. Now we have an opportunity to try it again and get it right. When he is calm. That’s what it’s all about: Being good ambassadors in the public and creating a positive reputation for our puppies. So it’s important to remember the last rule.
Last Rule: Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
I know it sounds mean, but if your dog isn’t acting right, seems cranky or out of sorts and someone wants to pet him, say no. You are not doing anyone any favors by saying yes. And it might be a good time for a nap. For everyone!
Cheryl provided us with some great tips on greeting dogs. This piece was originally posted on Lacey’s Barkery’s blog (http://laceysbarkery.com/blog/). If you would like to follow Coach’s puppy raising experience, you can find Cheryl’s blog here (http://mcleanpup.blogspot.com/.)