Extreme "Meet the Puppy": Handing Over Nervous DogsPublished February 8, 2013
I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon with some toy puppy owners; I call it “here’s my puppy” syndrome. These proud new parents stop by my store carrying their new babies in their arms, and when I comment about how adorable the trembling puppy is (it’s usually pretty clear that the dog is petrified), the owner says, “here” and hands the dog over to me without preamble. The trainer side of me is thinking, “This is really freaking her out! Please take her back!” I cover my surprise with a few quick words of praise for the pup and hand her to her person. Being foisted on a stranger – no matter how friendly that person may be – can be a frightening lesson for the puppy, particularly if it happens frequently and without warning.
I’m not a fan of carrying toy dogs everywhere, particularly when it comes time to meet new people. It’s more natural to allow the dog to approach a stranger at her own pace rather than thrusting her at the person. Plus, if the puppy expresses any reactivity to the stranger, like growling while in her person’s arms, and the stranger backs off, that growly reaction is reinforced. The dog will quickly learn, “If I don’t want anyone to touch me while my person is holding me, all I have to do is growl and the scary person will go away!”
I think it’s more comfortable to place the dog on the ground and allow it to approach a new person if she wants to, or keep her distance at first if she’s a little unsure. I’ve found that most dogs visiting my store are much more interested in checking out the goods than interacting with me, so I stand back and let them have at it. If they opt to stop investigating to say hello to me, great, if not, no hurt feelings. Even though it’s easy to physically manipulate small dogs and puppies, it’s best to let them approach the world, and new friends, at their own speed.