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Dogs Who Need Space

Parent Category: Dog Talk
Created: 09 January 2015

There are a number of organisations out there who promote awareness of the fact that some dogs need their own space and prefer not to be approached (by other dogs or people)… we would like to join them in raising awareness of this issue.

I’m sure like us, most of you fellow dog owners out there know a young child, perhaps even not so young, who loves to come up to your dogs and give them a cuddle (and treat them like dolls or teddies)… sometimes this can be A BIGNO, NO” and this is one of the most important things we need to teach children. We know this only too well, as our eldest Collie is a dog who likes to be left alone!

Dogs do not naturally like being confined in an embrace — A CUDDLE IS NOT NATURAL BEHAVIOUR FOR A DOG.

And it’s not just children who need to learn to respect a dog’s need for personal space…

There are a number of reasons why dogs might not be comfortable being approached or why their owner may not want them to be approached; they could:

  1. be just an old or nervous dog who doesn’t want or like attention and if this is forced on them, they could respond negatively (we’d put our eldest in this category, although she’s rarely aggressive because of this — she will normally seek to remove herself from the situation even if only by turning away)
  2. have been attacked by another dog or treated badly by a person — dogs who have had a bad experience can have associations with certain types, colours, sizes; or breeds of dogs or with the specific way someone looks; or a particular word or gesture — and we can only guess what the trigger will be
  3. be recovering from an operation or have or be recovering from an illness or disease that may be infectious or causes them to be more nervous than usual
  4. be a female in season, in which case the approach from a male — whether neutered or not — will probably be unwelcome (that’s another whole topic in itself)
  5. be a puppy, young dog or other dog in training, where the approach from someone else or another dog may be an unwelcome distraction
  6. be a dog who has not been socialised properly and hasn’t learned dog language!

These dogs are not necessarily nasty or aggressive — they just have different rules about their personal space. Many may even enjoy the company of some other dogs… our eldest is only really happy with the company of our youngest and often asks her to play — we can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times she’s asked any other dog to play!

Between dogs it is normal for dogs to communicate whether or not they want to be approached and they will observe and respect the signals they are given, unless of course they haven’t learned this yet. Puppies often fall foul of this practice…

Our eldest Border Collie is a nervous dog and will give clear signals to other dogs that she does not want to be approached, initially by turning her head away, by turning her whole body away, by walking away and even lying down facing away. If these signals are ignored, then she will vocalise her message, first by growling, then by air snapping — which usually gets the message across!

You may not know that NOT ALL DOGS UNDERSTAND DOG LANGUAGE, this is the subject of another article of mine (“Why You Might Need To Teach Dog Language To Your Dog”). It is certainly true that very few people and not even many dog owners, understand dog language and some may have learned very painful lessons as a result!

There are so many dogs around these days that they are hard to avoid and, whether or not people have a dog in the family, it would be sad if parents simply taught their children to avoid dogs. It would be much better to teach children some essential dog language basics to keep them safe around the dogs that inevitably they will encounter in their everyday lives.

While out on our walks we often meet children who are frightened of dogs (this was one of the main reasons we decided to specialise in helping with relationships between children and dogs) and very often they do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what they need to do to avoid being approached by even a friendly dog (but that’s a whole separate topic and covered in another article)!

Here we are dealing with when a dog is the one who seeks to be left alone… so here is a useful graphic:

What is the right way to behave?

In any case we need to teach children that it is important to always seek permission from the dog owner before approaching any dog, just as it is important for dog owners to ask before allowing their dog to approach someone else’s.

If you are a dog owner, you should be aware that not all other owners want their dog to be approached. When you approach someone who has their dog on the lead, you should put yours back on the lead unless it is clear that there is no issue. Of course if you are within distance or can otherwise communicate with the other owner and they indicate that it is OK for your dog to approach theirs, then it is acceptable to leave your dog loose.

Sometimes permission to approach with your dog, whether given or refused, can be inferred from the actions of the other owner, for example if they allow their leashed dog to stop and sniff your leashed dog; or they cross the road or turn and walk the other way, then you will get the point.

If in doubt as to whether to approach a dog, it is always best to ask their ‘handler’.

Here is another useful graphic:

If you are interested in more information about the organisations who promote awareness of the fact that some dogs need their own space, here are details of just a few of them:


Be Safe With Your Dogs!