My Dog is Not a Toy (and Other Things I Want You to Know)

How to handle people that think your small dog is a toy

Can I rant a little bit today? I’m going to because I don’t think I can hold it in any longer. I’ve had enough (like, enough enough) so up on my soapbox I go until I feel better because we all know that holding stuff in can cause stress, insomnia, wrinkles, and a ton of other bad things. So, here I go, ready?

My dog is not a toy! 

I know. He’s cute. I mean, he’s super adorably cute. He’s tiny, he has these big precious brown eyes, he has a tail that (once upon a time was broken and now has this weird bend at the end) kinks to one side and he has a wiggly little dachshund body. I get it. I just want to pick him up and squeeze him all of the time too.

Here’s the thing though…he most likely doesn’t like or trust you or your dog. 

You can’t tell from looking at his sweet little face but his momma dog died in labor with him and his sisters. He was the runt of the litter. He lived in a vet’s office and 9 doggie foster homes during his first 8 weeks of life. One of those foster homes abused him and caused his broken tail. Despite all of our work with him, he’s still scared of most people and other dogs until he has the time to really get to know you.

Meeting you on the sidewalk during an evening walk is not enough time to get to know you.

My dog is not a toy and other rules for meeting my dog.

So, please, here are a few things I’d like everyone to know about my dog:

  • My dog is small and unless your dog is less than 10 pounds he’s going to be intimidated. Actually, even if your dog is less than 10 pounds my dog will probably be intimidated. No, it does not matter that your dog is nice and “just wants to say hi”.
  • No, it is not ok for your kid(s) to run up and stick their hands and faces in my dog’s face. He’s never bitten anyone before but can I guarantee he won’t bite your kid when he is unexpectedly facing 3 kids all shrieking and squealing over how adorable he is? No. 
  • His wagging tail does not mean he likes you nor is it in invitation to touch him. Sometimes a wagging tail is a sign of insecurity so when I tell you to please not touch my dog maybe try to understand that I’m trying to keep you from being mauled by a 15lb scared chiweenie. Don’t assume you know my dog better than I do.
  • For the love of all things holy, do not pick up my dog! Yes, he’s small but he’s not a stuffed animal and he doesn’t want to be held by a stranger. Not to mention, he’s terrified of heights so your chances of being either bitten or peed on just went up dramatically. Besides, who picks up strange dogs? I really shouldn’t ever have to utter the words, “Please do not pick up my dog.”
  • You can knock it off with the lectures about how he needs to be trained. We work with him regularly to learn basic commands like “sit”, “stay”, “down”, “leave it”, etc and he does a superb job of those commands indoors and around people he knows. When he’s outside and you’re up in his face with your own big intimidating dog a lot of that training goes out the window as he’s terrified and feeling overwhelmed. We are working with a behaviorist to get through some anxiety issues but yelling at me on the sidewalk because he isn’t sitting perfectly still after you scared him isn’t helping anyone. 
  • Don’t feed him! I totally understand that you have dog treats in your pocket because you like to reward your dog for dropping a deuce on the grass during your evening walk and it’s kind of you to think of offering my dog food but just don’t. Would you want someone walking up and randomly offering your kid food? I didn’t think so. While working through my dogs issues he is on a very strict food and treat schedule. Offering him food just confuses him because he didn’t earn the reward and he’s still going to be wondering just who exactly you are.
  • Stop staring at me like I beat my dog just because he cowers when you suddenly (unexpectedly) bend down and lower your hand over his head to pet him. I don’t appreciate the suspicious glare that implies I beat my dog anymore than I bet you’d appreciate someone suspecting you beat your child just because he has a bruise on his arm. He came from a rescue and was beaten by a previous family. We are working through those issues so how about a little compassion – one pet parent to another?

But you know what? I don’t want to make our encounter on the sidewalk uncomfortable or negative. I mean, fellow pet parents – you’re my people! Maybe we can just lay down a few ground rules and then everyone can get along? I’ll stop being frustrated with you if you can just very simply do the following few things the next time you see us out and about.

My dog is not a toy and other rules for meeting my dog.

Just a few “rules” for the next time you see us:

  • Ask permission before touching my dog and give me a moment to prepare him. This means I’ll shorten his leash to my leg, I’ll crouch down next to him and pet him gently, and I’ll invite you to crouch down and allow him to sniff you first. 
  • Keep your large dog away and respect my answer when I tell you that no our dogs cannot “just say hi”. I know my little dog better than you do and when I tell you he’s scared and not comfortable around big animals no amount of you saying “but my dog is so friendly!” helps my dog’s insecurities.
  • If I cross to the other side of the sidewalk or turn down a sidestreet or alleyway, let it be. Respect our boundaries.

Or you know what might be even better yet? Hold your dog at a safe distance and invite us to meet on neutral territory somewhere for a doggie playdate. Invite us to a dog park or a backyard barbecue. Let the dogs meet off-leash so my dog feels like he is free to get away if he needs to and we can intervene as needed. 

Ask me about my dog’s history and insecurities then respect and appreciate the boundaries I’m trying to set to make sure I keep you and your dog safe. Honestly, I’m not trying to be the mean pet parent. All I’m asking is that you understand that every dog has a story and, unfortunately, my dog’s story is quite sad. His past abuse has caused him insecurities and anxieties that you can’t see. Just because he’s small doesn’t mean you can pick him up, pet him, and treat him like a toy.

There. Now, I feel better. 

What about you? Do you have any people behaviors that drive you nuts when it comes to your pets? 

Ashley LaMar
Ashley bounces between Atlanta, GA + Charleston, WV with her husband and two small dogs for life and work. If she’s not writing or blogging, she can usually be found cooking, reading, or watching baseball. Follow her on Twitter @ashleyfromfbl

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