Dear Marzipan,

I get very excited by dogs when I see them and I want to rush up and jump all over them. My person has been told recently that I shouldn’t be allowed to do that, especially when I’m tied to her. How can this be correct? She used to let me do that all the time and now I can’t and so I have to yell to them from across the street! Seeing dogs makes me very excited because I don’t live with any, and I’m very friendly and just want to say hi. Can you tell my person I should be able to do this? 

— Very Friendly Retriever

Dear VFR,

Nope. Not gonna do it.  Whoever told your person to stop you from doing this is completely correct, and I’m thanking her on behalf of all the mature, mannerly dogs of the world, be they pointy and perfect like me or more rounded. Have you been bitten yet? If not, count your lucky stars that the dogs you’ve “said hi” to so far have had long fuses and tried to remember that they’re not supposed to be your teacher. Your person is supposed to be. But keep at it, and you may get a lesson you’re not anticipating!

I know you’re all excited and think you’re in Disneyland because there’s another dog in your environment, but we are not your playthings!

I see you, but I’m ignoring you. Ask me first!

I can tell what you want to do. You want to rush up to me, as quickly as you can get here (which would be a straight line, a no-no in dog language — it’s a sign you might mean trouble!), you want to barrel into me physically, all paws and teeth and verve, and you want to lick my face a lot, smell my bikini area, or perhaps bark and bounce all around in hopes that I’ll jump on you.

Here’s the thing, VFR:  None of that is ok. It’s just not how we greet each other, even if you don’t know that yet. Perhaps it’s been too long since you’ve seen another dog and your frustration and excitement has built up out of all proper proportion. Perhaps you’ve only had tolerant or similar dogs to play with and no one around to show you proper social behavior. Either way, the time has arrived.

Here’s what I expect of you: If you see me while we’re both walking on the street, tied to our people, you are to do no more than glance my way and then continue on.  That would be a good time to check in with your person and eat the treat she should be offering you to help you walk past me nicely.  If she doesn’t know she should do this, stare at her more intently, or nudge her hands or cookie pocket a little to remind her (she may think that’s a little rude, I don’t know, but hey, it’s not rudeness directed at me, so my needs are being met here).  Whatever you do, just stay in your lane and walk on by.

I also expect you to be quiet. You may need some help in that regard, but that’s for your person and your person’s cookies to accomplish.  Do not yell at me to get my attention or to just express how much you’d like to be jumping all over me.  I’m doing very important things over here with my person, trying hard to walk nicely and not pull on her, and I have things to smell and pee on. I’m not interested in being social right now, and indeed, being social is difficult when I’m tied to my person. If you see me off leash, that’s the time when you can ask if I’d like to be social. But when I’m connected to my person, that’s your cue to leave me alone and go on your way.  Leash walks are private affairs between a dog and their person, and not a time for us to become friends.

Please do less of this. I may not be tolerant next time.

If you do see me off leash, there are rules there, too. Don’t just run up and jump on my head! Here’s what you’re supposed to be doing in that scenario: when you see me, you are allowed to approach me, but do it slowly, always checking if it’s still ok that you come all the way over. Sniff the ground along the way, and meander rather than just come brazenly in. Watch me for signs of attention on you and me having a loose body. If I turn around and return to sniffing after having seen you, that’s your cue to go find your fun elsewhere.  If I stare at you stiffly, stop coming at me right now and meander casually back to your person. That is our sign for “I am completely not ok with what you are doing and you need to stop it,” and if you don’t respect that, you won’t like what comes next. Don’t make me growl at you.

This is the polite conversation-opener I was looking for!

If all signs seem ok from me, then stop a few dog-lengths away and I’ll start coming over to you, too.  We’ll circle a bit, sniffing, getting closer, and if things feel ok one of us can play bow. Then we can have fun!  If you found yourself already too close and aren’t sure of your welcome, sniff the ground. In fact, whenever you’re not sure about how to handle a social interaction, sniff the ground!  It calms us all down.
But here’s what you need to know. Not all dogs are as playful as you are and you need to accept that. Many of us just don’t want to say hi at all, but if we do, we want you following proper greeting rules, not being intrusive into our personal space without permission, and stopping when we say stop.  If you do all that, there’s a chance some of us will indulge you.

But not on leash. Stay in your lane, eat your own cookies, and remember your walk is for you and your person, not for you and me.  I may see you later at the park.

Playmates! I think the yellow one likes me!

Oooh, cookies. Right.