This isn’t about anything heinous, I swear: this is about language and dogs.
I’ve mentioned that Peach is a soft-natured dog. She is very docile, sweet, easily reprimanded, easily redirected. Alongside these positive qualities, she is also easily frustrated, easily scared, and requires reassurance to be comfortable in new situations.
When I walk Peach, and meet a new person, I let them know, “She’s shy!” One word, and suddenly, their demeanour towards my puppy changes. It goes from a robust, rambunctious greeting, to a much quieter one. Most people kneel down, reach out, and make small noises, either soft or high-pitched. The kneeling and soft noises are attractive to Peach, but she is still nervous by body orientation (Normally towards her) and the reaching out.
When I haven’t told people she is shy, they tend to lean over or forward, and make louder noises. Very threatening, when you’re less than a foot tall!
I noticed that the language was what changed people’s reaction towards her, thereby opening her up to more positive encounters with new people. I know if I said, “She’s scared,” or, “She’s nervous,” people would take that in a different way. Fear and nervousness are considered negative, and most people consider themselves positive: there’s no reason to be scared of me! They want to “fix” the fearfulness, and in doing so, often over-compensate and push a pup over-threshold.
People have their own vocabulary to associate with dogs. My in-laws’ Pomeranian, Gypsy, is reactive. She enjoys hearing her own voice, and dislikes strange animals. Many people consider her aggressive, when in reality, she wants nothing at all to do with other animals and is simply telling them to go away. If they approach, she has a little fit trying to escape from them. She isn’t fearful, per se, and definitely not aggressive. But people will approach, apply a label (If they do not understand what “reactivity” is) and then suggest “fixes” for the behaviour. If she’s aggressive, she needs to be dominated; if she’s afraid, she needs to meet other dogs. Neither thing would help Gypsy.
You’ll also see this when you tell someone the breed of dog you own. Today, a very nice lady told me Pomeranians are only good with children if raised with them. Jasper, my first Pom, never got that memo! He met his first child at over a year old, about the same age as the child in question, and proceeded to love the snot out of him. Pit bull dogs are vicious, labs are loyal, German shepherds are protective, Border collies are smart.
We use a lot of words to describe our dogs, and sometimes, the words make all the difference in perception of the dog itself. Even in training. Evaluate your language… And see what can be modified to be more positive.