You can feel them sometimes even before you see them. Maybe it’s just a tingle in your spine, or maybe you see your Service Dog’s body language change. Any time you’re in public it can happen.
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My other technique, “The Hoffman Handshake” is helpful, because asking a stranger to shake hands redirects their behavior from “Excited Greeting To Adorable Animal” to “Formal Greeting To Adult Human.” Shaking hands is a traditional human behavior ritual that people will automatically perform.
But what if you do NOT want to shake hands with people?
- What if a child is approaching? It’s not socially acceptable to touch children.
- What if the person is ignoring your previous polite request to not bother your dog?
- What if you are nonverbal, or socially inhibited in stressful situations?
- What if another dog owner is approaching, and refuses to listen to you?
Here is how you can take control of the situation, help your dog, and bend the stranger to your will, all at once:
Hold out your hand in a “STOP” pose. Wearing a fingerless glove with a red “Stop” or “Do Not Pet” patch on it, can amplify this message. Even many children know the meaning of a stop signs’ red color and shape. People cannot barrel through your glove: they need to stop and read it.
Redirecting their attention toward your hand and away from the dog gives them time to think It also gives you time to gain control of the situation. It can still be friendly and polite, but you can be firm about what your dog (and you) need when you’re in public.
This strategy is powerful! Why?
- It makes the stranger STOP, stand up straight, and look at you and your patch, instead of staring the dog in the eye.
- It gives your dog time to adjust to the strangers scent and appearance, while being ignored.
- It makes your own behavior predictable to your dog.
- Your dog can feel secure that when you do the “STOP” ritual, the stranger is going to act predictable, too.
- The “STOP” can become your dogs cue to ignore other people.
- It can also become your dogs cue to sit calmly for training, if you choose to invite the stranger to help you.
As far as people’s reactions to the STOP glove, some people will respond well, and some will not. But at least, they will not be grabbing your dog!
Be sure to join Martha and others from the Service Dog community on the Martha Hoffman Hearing Dogs Open Forum Facebook group. It’s an open community where dog trainers, both professional and owner/trainers, exchange ideas and tips about training their dogs.
Martha Hoffman is the Training Director for the Hearing Dog Program. She has trained several hundred Hearing Dogs and tested over 20,000 shelter dogs over the course of 25 years. She is the founder and lead trainer at Martha Hoffman Hearing Dog Academy (MHHD) and the author of the highly respected text on Hearing Dog training, Lend Me an Ear.