A furry snap and a useful lesson in petting a dog
The author reported on the new trend of canine homestays in the city on June 4.
While reporting on the growing trend of dog homestays in the city, I reached a boarding facility in Sector 23. Its owner has been running the stay at her residence for over a year. Her boarders are treated no less than children. As I entered her spacious living room, Phoebe, a curious rehabilitated mongrel, greeted me with slow suspicious sniffs and then a few wags of its tail.
As a dog lover, this story was of particular interest to me as it made me come in contact with dogs of different shapes, sizes and nature. When the owner finally let her boarders, so long locked in her bedroom, see me, an exuberant group of dogs — pug, spitz, beagle and mongrel — sniffed, barked and wagged their tails at me.
Out of the six boarders at the homestay, Jimmy, a golden-coloured cocker spaniel stood out for his indefinite demand for head scratches and belly rubs. The owner then filled me up on the one-and-a-half-year-old’s back story of being abandoned by his parents at the homestay two months back. His human parents were going through a divorce and were not able to take care of him, she said. However, Jimmy loves attention and humans around him, I was told. But I may have mistaken Jimmy’s friendliness and taken it for granted, as I later found out.
Over an hour went by and I learnt more about the homestay. At one point, Jimmy climbed on the sofa and sat leaning on me. Overwhelmed by his silky golden fur and his warming gesture, I casually put my arm across him to give him a hug. What followed was an angry snap, which left a scratch on my forehead and a bump on my skin. The snap wasn’t aggressive or harmful but was a way of asking me to keep my distance.
I sat stunned and confused, not making eye contact with Jimmy. Confusion and embarrassment followed, as I slowly wiped off the saliva he left on my glasses and hair. The owner called Jimmy a “bad boy”, but I felt like a bad human who did something very wrong to have evoked such a reaction from him. However, around 10 minutes later, he was back beside me, once again leaning on me. This time, I stuck to petting his tiny forehead. But Jimmy for me was now unpredictable.
Another homestay owner later explained to me that dogs even though friendly do not like it when their space is intruded. It is a behaviour similar to humans, where we feel threatened and disturbed when another human enters our personal space without permission.
When dogs do respond to such intrusion by snapping or growling, they are branded as aggressive or unfriendly. However, most of the time, it is we humans who are at fault as we fail to understand them. The owner later informed me that Jimmy has often snapped in such a manner during his interactions. It has adversely affected his chances of getting adopted by families. The lesson I walked away with that day was not to randomly go up to a dog and start petting. It is not a gesture every dog enjoys. It would rather take its time to sniff you and warm up to you before you pet.