I recently had an experience that reminded me how important it is to be a parent. I am not a parent, just to be clear. I just spend a lot of time in parks, and in the neighbourhood so I have plenty of opportunity to judge them.
You (in general), as a parent, are responsible for teaching a brand new person the ins and outs of life, and interacting with the world. That’s a big thing!
I was walking Gwynn through High Park after he’d gotten his spring hair cut this year. Right out of his haircut, he looks like the most delightful teddy bear on earth to cuddle and squeeze and pet. Beautiful day, tons of people around, and I was on my way to the dog off-leash area to let him run around a bit (and, as is inevitable, get some mud on the wheels, as it were.).
With that many people around I pay a lot of attention – make sure to keep Gwynn close when walking past that person who is looking nervous of him, or that kid holding an ice cream cone at dog-level, etc.
So I noticed when a girl – probably about 10 – locked on to Gwynn and began speed-walking away from her mother and directly towards Gwynn (from behind him), hands already outstretched.
Gwynn is friendly. But He. Is. A. Dog. And coming up behind a strange animal and surprising him with a random pet from a stranger? Nuh uh. And this is where I judge the kid’s mom, and intercede in the teaching of life-interactions.
Placing myself between Gwynn and the little girl, I told/asked her, “You know you always need to ask permission before going near a strange dog? Right?“*
I got a blank look in response to this, but at least she’d stopped moving forward.
“You have to ask, because the dog might be scared of people, or mean, or sick, or not like kids or surprises, but if you ask, I might say yes,” I add, when it becomes clear that Mom isn’t taking advantage of this teachable moment.
I get through to her. “Can I pet your dog?” she asks.
“Absolutely! He’s very friendly.”
End scene. I really hope I got through to her, but frankly, I. Am. Not. Her. Parent. or friend, or relative, or teacher/person of authority in her life. There is just as much chance that she will go off and complain with her mom about that weird rude (possibly even that B word) who tried to lecture her about dogs, when her dog isn’t even not-friendly, so why? why? And if her parents aren’t bothering with agreeing with me on this, then why would she?
Gwynn and I are walking through the park near me last weekend, on a pretty high traffic multi-use trail. Enter a little boy on a bicycle going the opposite direction to us. I moved off to the side, but that wasn’t necessary, because he came to a stop, dropped his bike and says, “Hi, my name is (Let’s call him Timmy), can I pet your dog?”
Delighted, I said, “Yes! And thank you for asking! His name is Gwynn.” And we spent the next few minutes talking about Gwynn, and bicycles.
Younger brother caught up, asked the same question, and, getting another enthusiastic YES-and-thank-you, started walking with his bike towards Gwynn. Mom shows up on her bike at this point, and immediately says, “Stop and put your bike down, you’ll make the dog nervous.”
Brilliant. As I walked away, I overheard the older kid telling his mom about how “That lady with the dog thanked me for asking if I could pet him!”
It warms the cockles of my heart, it does indeed.
Parents: teach your kids proper animal etiquette. Always ask, and always be gentle with animals are the rules they need the most. And try not to pass your own fears of animals on to them. Also, you are doing a fantastic job, in general (not that my opinion matters, here, but still.), at raising children and handling the screaming and the constant energy and the many MANY ‘Why?’ questions, and oh god, it just seems exhausting.
People with dogs: also educate kids if they don’t seem to know about the ask rule… and if they do know – make sure to let them know that them doing the right thing is AWESOME. Because sometimes hearing something from a stranger can reinforce good behaviours that parents are teaching.
*Blog readers – you know this, yes? If you didn’t before, you know now. “Is your dog friendly?”, “Can/May I pet your dog?”… “Is it ok for my (child too young to speak coherently especially to strangers) to say hello to your dog?” And, regardless of what size a dog is, how happy he seems to be to see you, and how experienced you are with dogs, if the owner says ‘no’, then give them space!