Reacting to strangers

Lincoln is quite weird when it comes to meeting strangers. As you can imagine, it is very often that people stop in the street and start talking to me when I'm walking my dog.

Lincoln with Louise, one of his furry friend's human :-)
I hate it when they do from a long distance, they start talking about Lincoln and they do it really loudly so they make sure I can hear them and maybe answer their questions or talk to them directly - some day, I feel up to it, other days I just wish they'd go away. Lincoln hates it when he sees them coming from a long distance too and he can see they're talking about him - sometimes it makes him anxious, I can see it by the way he starts getting closer to me, raising his ears.

Today, we were going for a quick walk just around our building and two young people crossed the street and came to ask me questions like "What type of dog it is ?", "How is it to live in a flat with him?" - and then the usual and boring "Does he bites?".

Do I look like a biting-doggie ?

I could see Lincoln feeling very stressy and getting closer and closer to me - I bet it is just like me when I meet new people; sometimes I like them instantly, and sometimes I just don't.

Anyway, Lincoln did not seem to like the man talking to me and I answered: "No, he does not bite - but he can act like a scaredy cat sometimes so he might not want you to touch him".
And I was right, the man insisted on trying, and then Lincoln started to back up, and back up like "Leave me alone! You're invading my personal space!".

The man felt a little upset I think, he looked at me and said " Well, what a strange dog! Do you let him meet other people sometimes ?"
I wasn't exactly in my best mood and asked :

" How would you feel if someone you don't know crossed the street and tried to touch you?" . He answered " But I'm not a dog! Dogs don't mind that kind of stuff".

Oh yes, they do.

People are so annoying sometimes. Well, I get it, when they come to talk to me and want to pet Lincoln, they are being nice, but sometimes I'm tired to see that 70% of people just don't know anything about dogs really and think they are just fluffly creatures, made to entertain humans. Lincoln is a friendly dog but what can I do when some days, he just does not seem to like the person walking toward him and when this exact same person stop, and wants to pet him ? Walking away would be rude - so what can I tell people so they don't get upset by Lincoln's reaction when they try to pet him and he starts backing up ?

I'm sure some of you have some tips to share with me :-) That'd be very nice !

( PS: I'll let Lincoln blog on his own about all the walks, playdates and new friends he had when we were away from Blogland very soon !)
Talk soon,



  1. Hi there , maybe a silly comment , but if Lincoln is big and at a human's own eye level , maybe that is what makes him tense. Truthfully though I think people mean well , it's just the downside of owning such a handsome dog!
    Best wishes Molly

  2. My Elka has that issue as well sometimes. She loves people, and will frequently go right up to them and solicit attention, even on walks. Other times, she dodges and backs away any time anybody puts a hand out. Just the way they are sometimes, I guess. She doesn't seem to be actively fearful in these instances...just determined to be disinterested, even if she has to get excited about it!

  3. Hey Laura, great post and people can be so insistent that I find my self reacting a little testily to them and their persistant touchy feely ways with Bert.

    Especially when they allow their small children to run up to any dog and grab them around the face for a hug. There are just certain courtesies that people should learn.

    Anyway, Thanks for todays post
    Bert and My Vickie

  4. I must admit I have had this problem too - with them being so soft and fluffy looking people instantly think they are cuddly -So here is what I do if someone comes near me when I am out walking the boys. First, I always put them in a sit stay position and then stand in front of them between them and the person coming towards us. Body language can be quite powerful and this says to people "you may not touch my dogs without my permission" and to date it has worked every time. Reilly LOVES meeting new people and is always happy for a pat - Denny is the total opposite and doesn't like strangers at all. If people ask if they can pat my dogs I will tell them - yes you can pat Reilly - but do not try and pat Denny - if he wants a pat he will come to you.

  5. Sometimes i wish i could bark to tell people off... When i walk my dogs people tend not to come to us, if they dare i usually shout at them with my angry french accent (or sometimes even in french when i really want to scare them out :p ). Thankfully our village has a ratio of two dog per person, so (most) people we meet know how to behave.
    I think i your situation i would have reacted just the same!

  6. *Haa!* If you think you have a problem with one Great Dane, try two!! ;) Plus I had it for 5years before I got them as I was training service dogs and no one can resist stopping to pat a dog in the mall!! *Sigh*

    Jasper is so in his own little world that anyone could come up to him and they would be his best friend - that is why I take him to visit the mental health ward!! Lexi on the other doesn't like everyone and will back away if someone tries to pat her - in that situation I just bring out the treats, get her focus and then they can pat her (she is so obbsessed by the treats that she doesn't care!!).

    I don't mind talking to people, even though they may ask silly questions - I feel like I'm educating people, even though they may not listen! :)

    ~Good Luck - I comes with the parcel of having a Great Dane!!

  7. Darwin's the same way. Except she's been barking at people as they come to pet her. We're seeing a trainer to help with her leash walking and hopefully her barking before we move to Singapore.
    It's amazing how people can be so clueless sometimes.

    1. Its a Great Dane thing. They were bred for centuries to be wary of strangers. You can revert this trait in a couple of decades just because society changed and would like now only marshmallow dogs. Lincoln is very handsome :-) Give him a hug from us.

      best regards

  8. Tori is indifferent to strangers. She isn't big on giving affection to anyone until she really knows them but she doesn't shy away from people either

    Stop on by for a visit

  9. Sampson is JUST the same!!

    He has been socialised thorough, but he is just aloof with strangers and some times he is FINE with them other times he will back up and give a warning bark. I have taken to him wearing a high viz vest when we are out on the lead that says 'DO NOT TOUCH, IN TRAINING' So people can come and talk to me about him, with out Sampson becoming concerned about being grabbed. I am so glad i'm not the only one with a scardey dane.

  10. Hi Laura, Don't worry about being rude (which I'm sure you wouldn't be) but you do have the right to put Lincoln first. If he is showing signs of stress, he is your first priority. I would turn the opposite way and call out, "sorry can't stop, we are training" or something to that effect. Then keep on walking and hopefully they won't bother you.

    Otherwise could you get him to sit. Tell the person not to touch please (in a firm voice) until you tell them its ok. Maybe explain Lincoln gets anxious with all the extra attention and sometimes he does not want to be touched. Be firm with them. If you know he is not in the mood to be handled by a stranger, do not let them. He's your dog, you are his pack leader and he needs your leadership in protecting him from some people who are uneducated.

    You are doing a wonderful job Laura. Isn't it great to ask our friends for advice in blogville. I know I have needed them at different times. Take care and give Lincoln a hug from us (but only if he wants one hehe). No worries, and love, Carol (and Stella and Rory)

  11. I don't blame him. I would be pretty creeped out if a stranger came up and gave me a hug, because it's a bit like that for dogs. Sniffing would be like shaking hands, then a smooge on the face would be like a big bear hug. Just say that to them!

  12. Salut Lincoln !!!

    De passage chez Honey, nous avons vu le lien vers votre blog et decidé de passer dire bonjour (j'espère que les commentaires en français ne vous dérange pas ?)

    Je suis d'accord avec vous, les gens ne se rendent pas compte que les chiens aussi, ont parfois besoin d'espace. L'un de nos chien est comme cela et il est vite pris pour chien méchant juste parce que certaines personnes lui ont fait peur :-(

    Je reviendrais suivre les aventures de Lincoln avec plaisir.

    A bientôt.

    Maïté (& Echo et Link)

  13. Howdy Lincoln, hey we came up with a funny one. If someone you don't know wants to say hello, tell them they can sniff your butt ahahahahahahahaha!. Sorry we made ourselves laugh!! No worries, and love, Stella and Rory

  14. Hi Laura - sorry, as usual I am late! :-) I think you have gotten great advice from everybody so far and I agree. The world is full of idiots and unfortunately, as Great Dane owners, we seem to be the target for all of them! :-( To be honest with you, that is one of the biggest reasons I would not have a Dane again - I am sick & tired of all the attention and constant harrassment & questions from people when we go out. I understand it is because we have beautiful dogs and we should be grateful but really, sometimes you need a break and to be able to go out and have a walk, go to a cafe, etc, UNDISTURBED. But it is never an option when you have a Dane. I have to say, this has made me very anti-social and intolerant now, after 8yrs of this with Honey. I used to be like Lexi & Jasper's human too and always make time to talk to people because I felt that I was helping to educate them but seriously, you cannot be in public service all the time!! :-) Besides, most of the time you're not really educating people - I can always tell - the ones who really want to understand and learn will ask sensible questions and really listen. But most people just ask stupid questions and don't even listen to you when you're answering - unless it is what they want to hear.

    And it is still nice & a novelty when your dog is young - wait until your Dane is older and you have been doing it all their life - then you are not so patient anymore!

    So now when I got out with Honey, I tend to walk fast, not make eye contact with anybody and act very unfriendly and move around people to avoid them (unless we're walking in downtown or something). It's a terrible thing but it's the only way I can have a walk in peace.

    But still, I know what you mean - there will be idiots who see us from across the road and shout "Hey - you've got a BIG dog!" and if I don't respond, they keep repeating it, shouting across the street! I want to shake them. I mean - DUH - do they think I haven't noticed that my dog is big?? And of course, all those "horse & saddle" jokes which are so UNoriginal and so UNfunny - and yet everybody expects you to laugh.


  15. (...continued)

    I am lucky that Honey is very relaxed about meeting strangers. She is not super-friendly like a Labrador, jumping up & fawning on people - but she doesn't mind being approached and touched (often hugged!) by strangers. She usually just stands there aloof and lets them pat her - and when they leave, she looks at me, expecting the "payment" - ha! ha! ie. I always give her a treat afterwards. We did a LOT of socialisation when she was a pup to associate strangers with good things (like sitting outside the supermarket when she was 10 weeks and asking each person who came out to give her a treat & pat) - but I think partly it is just your dog's personality and Honey is generally a very (over!)confident dog.

    One thing you can do which might help is to always give Lincoln a treat after he meets a stranger, like we do with Honey. This is classical conditioning. After a while, he will associate meeting people with treats (and especially if he allows them to pat him, give him lots of praise and give those people treats and ask them to feed him). You can also tell people "he is very shy" - which sounds nicer than saying he is fearful and make people feel sorry for him - which will make them try to be nicer to him. Tell them he is very shy and you are trying to overcome that and will they help you? Then explain that the way to greet a shy dog is for them to turn away from him (crouch down, if they feel comfortable) and not look at him, present their shoulder to him - and let HIM approach them. When he goes forward to sniff them, praise him and give him a treat - or ask them to give him the treat.

    But still, I know what you mean that sometimes, you just don't want that person to come up to you & your dog. Especially if they have a dog with them as well. I hate the ones that are carrying some toy dog in their arms and want to come up and push their dogs face down to Honey's face from above. Or sometimes they have children who are behaving badly and I don't want to make Honey suffer their bad behaviour. So I am like you - I always struggle to find the right thing to say. I agree with the others that you should put your dog first and not worry about being rude (but this is easier said than done! If you are like me, you are always worried about being rude to people and always too nice & polite!!) Usually I try to leave the area as fast as possible - even if they're talking to me, I pretend that I cannot hear and just walk quickly away or make a detour with Honey. Sometimes, if I really cannot avoid it and they ask to pat Honey, then I always tell people to stop & wait and let Honey approach them, instead of them approaching Honey. The dog always feel more comfortable if they can do the approaching - instead of having a stranger looming towards them.

    Oh - finally, if all else fails and you really meet a rude person that you want to get rid off - I find it is very effective to say "Stop! My dog has an infectious skin disease so don't touch him!" Trust me - people will back away immediately! :-) If they're strangers that you're never going to meet again, you don't care anyway and you don't want to waste time trying to teach them to greet a dog correctly. You just want something to scare them away effectively! :-)


  16. Honey's mom is so smart and gives such good advice!

    I'm a Labrador, so I ALWAYS want to meet people, but my mom is pretty introverted and would often just prefer to walk in peace (especially after a stressful day at work). Sometimes she will just keep walking rather briskly like she's trying to get in a workout (which she is). At times she will even cross the street or walk in the other direction. Maybe it is rude, but she just doesn't feel like talking to a stranger at times, and people should respect that. (just like Lincoln may not feel like socializing with a stranger) At other times, when she is in the right mood, mom will let people meet me and she will smile and be pleased at their compliments on my good looks and behavior. (I get LOTS of comments on my good looks and behavior.) But she is ALWAYS wary of children because many are not taught how to behave with dogs. The little boy next door once asked if he could pet me, and mom said yes, and then he hit me. I'm such a good boy I just tolerated it, but mom hasn't let that neighbor boy come close to me since then. (Yes, she knows she should try to educate him and his parents, but he won't listen to his parents so he certainly won't listen to her.)

    Your job is to protect Lincoln. If he's nervous or uncomfortable, tell people he is shy. I have a good friend who is a long-haired miniature dachshund and is the cutest thing around, so EVERYONE wants to pet him, but he HATES strangers. So his mom is very good about protecting him in situations in which he is uncomfortable, or distracting him with a constant stream of treats while a stranger pets him.

    The bottom line is that it is more important to protect your dog than to worry about other people's feelings. But I think you can do it in a polite way (unless the other person is being rude) by just explaining that he is shy around strangers.

    I like the "my dog has an infectious disease" line!


  17. Goliath is the same, especially with men.

    I am my dog's bodyguard. I used to feel very bad about saying no to people who wanted to pet him, but because I was not doing my job of acknowledging the fact that he was stressed, he started becoming clearer and clearer, until it got to a point where he would bark at people so they back off. Not fun...

    So I respect his bubble, and I started all over with giving him treats when we would cross a stranger, and then give him a treat when we would talk to a stranger, etc, etc. Now, he can be petted by some strangers (but not a big massive men with a hat, let's stay), but he does not enjoy it and he looks at me for a reward after he has gone through that annoying experience. That is fine to me. I say NO to almost every body who asks to pet him, unless we are in training mode or if he is in a very social mood (we all have our days, and so do dogs). He will never be a social dog loving every body he meets on the street, and that is fine with me.

    It is also easier when he is not leashed, as he can go sniff the people behind their back to reassure himself and he does not feel "trapped".

    My answer when people ask "if he is mean/bad/méchant or if they can pet him?" I say that he is nervous and uncomfortable. My dog is NOT mean because he does not want to be petted, gees.