“Can I meet your dog?” I said to my neighbor, as I say many times each week at the park, while running errands, on hikes and anywhere else I see a dog. This was a dog who I did not yet know, and I was eager to say hello. He came over to me with the same calmness he’d had on his walk, and looked up at me. I expected a calm, possibly even a tentative greeting.
Then, his face changed, and he launched up at me, leaving scratch marks on my chest and knocking me over so that I had to use my hand on the ground to catch myself from a complete fall. The change in his face that gave me enough time to expect a change in behavior but not enough time to react sufficiently to evade contact had no signs of aggression. He did not look scared, frustrated or angry. The look on his face was one of glee. He was excited to greet me, and is truly a friendly dog. He was lacking in manners and a bit out of control, but not the slightest bit aggressive.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t hurt someone, and the first thing I did after my interaction with this dog had ended was to tell my kids that this dog was off limits. They are not allowed to pet or approach him, and if they see him coming towards them, they know they are supposed to cross the street or turn around and go the other way. My kids saw what happened when this dog bounded up at me, so they needed no convincing to give this dog ample space.
I believe it’s because the dog was friendly that the guardian was completely unconcerned with his behavior. She offered no apology and expressed no chagrin, remorse or embarrassment that her dog leapt at me and did so hard enough that I lost my balance. What she said was, “He’s such a lover.”
To be fair, as I backed away, she held on tight to his leash, which is why when he jumped up towards me again, he met resistance and came back down to the ground even closer to his guardian and further from me than when he started. Regrettably, he landed hard. He seemed totally unaffected by slamming into the ground, which reflects a combination of his focus on me and the powerful muscling of his body.
He may be friendly, if that’s what she meant by “a lover” but he could also injure someone. Since I work with dogs with a variety of serious issues, I’m accustomed to imperfect behavior, but it’s very rare for me to be knocked over. It was a little embarrassing, to be honest. I certainly hope he doesn’t ever jump on the frail elderly woman across the street, the pregnant neighbor around the corner, a child, or any other person. What is most concerning about this dog is that he does not present as out of control or prone to high aroused. He walks through the neighborhood every day on a loose leash very peacefully. Since he jumped on me, I have seen him do it to one other person, with similar results, but otherwise, he just plods along on his walks showing no signs of enthusiasm over dogs, squirrels or any of the things that excite the average dog.
As a behaviorist, the rapid switch of this dog from calm emotions and behavior to high arousal is very interesting. (As a neighbor and a mom, it’s not so enthralling.) Most dogs either have a less dramatic amount of change or take a little longer to go from one state to the other. Many dogs get excited when meeting people, but few dogs are wild around people while showing no signs of exuberance in response to any other stimuli.
Have you ever known a dog who seemed so calm that their truly explosive greeting behavior was unexpected?