Last month, we were in Texas and I’m still thinking about a near-altercation between two dog owners. I was one of them. And since I’m still thinking about it, I will exorcise it the only way I know.
Here goes: Mister Dog and I had been driving all day. We finally got the Rollin’ Rancho to our RV park for the night, Wichita Falls I think. Both of us were a little bottom-sore and hangry. After setting up camp, we perked up after some kibble and salad and probiotics. Good to stay regular on the road, each in our own way. Then we headed over to the clearly-marked area for dogs to relieve themselves. You could tell because of the twenty or so multi-colored statuary fire hydrants. Mister was okay with those, and the giant ice cream cone was not all that enticing. The human-sized footless flamingoes in top hats and bow ties made him a bit nervous, so we took another lap. Trying to evade them landed us right in front of a seven-foot-tall chicken head with a self-satisfied smirk on his beak. I wouldn’t have been able to go in front of that bird either, we took another lap to the farthest corner this time, close to the highway. Finally, success. It ends up that strange bathrooms make both of us uncomfortable.
Then we wandered along the edge of a pond filled with ducks and geese. These were live ones, so we scoured the shoreline for poop and dead things to roll in. It’s more than a fair trade for what he does for me. I need to be walked after a day of driving. Even more so after a clinic day. I need regular meals and he isn’t about to let me miss one of his or mine. I wear hearing aids but only when I want to hear what people say, so a lot of the time, if it wasn’t for him yipping and yodeling, I’d have no idea what was happening outside the Rollin’ Rancho. He waits patiently for me while I work. When I’m writing, he sleeps with his snout on my thigh. And if he hears something at night, he high-centers himself over my torso, planting his breastbone in the center of my ribs, collapsing a lung to hold me down. It works.
For the last years, the dogs who landed with me have been reactive dogs with bad habits who needed to find a home with low standards. I was happy to oblige. I wasn’t always socially welcome, either. But Mister is different. He didn’t come with a police record. He’s just a guy, stoic and good-intentioned. Not overtly affectionate but he follows me with his eyes. Randomly, he’ll press his back close. He likes to make the first move, but I don’t mind. It’s sweeter that way.
Mister is a good dog but I’ve been around enough reactive dogs and rescue horses to know that’s how they all started out. My goal with Mister is to protect his goodness in this human world. Do I sound cynical?
We sniffed along the shore until Mister’s belly hair was muddy and the socks in my crocs were wet, and then found a bench. Mister prefers to sit on chairs and benches, he leaned in and I held one of his thick trotters in my hand. The sky was layered with rainbow clouds and I’m a total sap for sunsets. I felt mushy about Mother Nature and my wild luck of being with this good dog and the endlessly fascinating intersection of the animal world and the human world. It’s what I teach most often when working with horses. I love this life.
Mister turned his head away from the view and that’s when I heard a man’s voice. There was an older couple with a dog standing behind us. RV parks seem to be filled with older people I notice and it’s a testament to how rarely I look in the mirror that I don’t notice I’m one, too.
“Would your dog like to meet our dog?” the man repeated. His wife had white poodle hair, unlike me. I’m more of a wire hair.
“No, thank you,” I smiled, no hard feelings, and returned to the sunset. Mister did the same.
Then the man repeated his question again louder because clearly, I had misunderstood him or I would have leapt to my feet and dragged Mister off the bench. So, I repeated my answer, enunciating it slower this time. Maybe he doesn’t wear his hearing aids either.
What is it about our persistent deafness to the word no, even said in a polite voice? I think about this a lot, too. I seem to have to say “no, thank you” at least three times to be heard by nice people. Mean folks take offense immediately. Could they possibly think I don’t know my mind or that I want to be cajoled? No, I’m an introvert, but the kinder people are, the more hard-of-hearing they seem. It feels like an uncomfortable oxymoron: aggressive kindness.
Some people struggle with saying no, fearing it will offend the other person. Give up if you are trying to learn. No one takes no for an answer unless it’s the eighth or tenth time and you’re screeching. No wonder animals give us calming signals.
“Is your dog bad with other dogs?” the man finally says, thinking he’s solved the puzzle of my rudeness. “Because our dog is good to learn on and I know all about how to do this? Come on, bring him over.”
Oh, good. Now I’ve got a railbird ready to teach me about dogs. Why do I have to talk to strangers? I’ve been polite. I understand that people are just trying to be nice and I’m the jerk. I’m even fine with being a jerk because of that sunset… and Mister’s trotter… This is the same reason I’m no fun on trail rides.
And why is this man so pushy when he doesn’t know us? He didn’t ask if my dog was aggressive or fearful. He didn’t know Mister’s sex or if he was intact. He just has a point to prove and by now it doesn’t even feel like it’s about dogs. Why do we use animals as hand puppets for our egos?
“No. Thank. You.” I say, more insistent this time. The woman finally registered and touched her husband’s arm. He was frustrated, his voice is louder now, but I turned away. They probably tell people about the rude corgi woman.
Mister and I have an agreement. He doesn’t need to be petted by everyone or need to meet every strange dog every strange day of this unpredictable travel life. He doesn’t need to perform for anyone, least of all me. And neither of us has to listen to high-pitched baby talk politely. Okay, that last one’s more for me.
Mister has only been with me a few months. This was our first extended trip, and although he behaved perfectly, I could see the stress. People say stoic calming signals are harder to read but his minimal language was as blunt. He held back and stayed a bit close, was less sniffy. His eyes went still and dark around others, his ears softened and leaned farther off the side of his head. He lost all patience with cats. He cowered an almost imperceptible bit when people leaned over him to maul his head. He took full-body shakes as soon as the pressure eased. He wouldn’t chase his stuffed trout tied to my lunge line. He loves that fish.
As the trip continued, sometimes he was a little growly, too, protecting me. I might get lost in this strange land. Corgis were bred to herd cattle. They’re tough independent dogs who abhor chaos. We’re alike that way and spending so much time together, we’re both a little clingy. Conversely, if people aren’t groping him and he has time to think, he’s likely to climb onto someone’s lap and drop off to sleep. Unbidden sweetness.
The older couple’s dog? She was a rheumy little black dog with cloudy eyes. Her ears were folded back and her name was Millie. She might have weighed twelve pounds, standing there nervously or painfully, I wasn’t sure which, holding one foot in the air. I’d seen them earlier, her back arched taking mincing steps, the little dog jigging behind barely able to keep up and a little worse for wear. I wanted to ask the man, “Is she your sacrificial lamb?”
But then my dog is better than I deserve, too.
Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward, now scheduling 2022 clinics and barn visits. Information here.
Want more? Become a “Barnie.” Subscribe to our online training group with training videos, interactive sharing, audio blogs, live chats with Anna, and join the most supportive group of like-minded horsepeople anywhere.
Anna teaches ongoing courses like Calming Signals, Affirmative Training, and more at The Barn School, as well as virtual clinics and our infamous Happy Hour. Everyone’s welcome.
Visit annablake.com to find archived blogs, purchase signed books, schedule a live consultation, subscribe for email delivery of this blog, or ask a question about the art and science of working with horses.
Affirmative training is the fine art of saying yes.
45 thoughts on “Unwanted Favors: What’s the Affirmative Response to “No”?”
Oh I just SO resonated with this post…People think my dog and I are aloof~we just want our space… No need to say more other than thank goodness I’m not ‘alone’ 😊
Thanks Mrs. J. A remote and subtle high-five.
Oh, my gosh. What is it with humans and other people’s dogs? Who think they have the automatic right to pet them, let their dog run up to smell them, etc. And you’re so so right about people ignoring the polite but firm no. And having lived with Corgis for 25+ years I think they attract all those people. Last time I was on a trip with our Corgis someone marched into our personal space with phone ready, saying they wanted to take a photo for Facebook. Ummmm, NOOOOOO. Step.Away. Now. Thank you for distracting me from the annual disaster otherwise known as the Kentucky Derby. If I see one more video of a baby TB being manhandled while preparing for this debacle I’m going to scream!
Thanks, fellow Corgi person. Corgis aren’t as “cute” as they seem. A photo? Yikes, thanks for the warning. And the derby. Hell and damnation.
Corgis are working dogs, designed to nip the heels of cattle to drive them along. No self-respecting working dog should have to tolerate being petted by cooing strangers. Same obviously applies to all dogs. I bet the same people who assume they have the right to interfere with other peoples dogs also pat pregnant women’s stomachs and tell parents what they’re doing wrong with their kids.
Carolyn, I may or may not have fallen in love with them for the wicked trouble the Queen’s dogs are. They bite the press!
YES, Billie!! And why is it that people think THEY are dog whisperers etc? That they can walk right up on a dog they dont know and “fondle” them? I guess no one ever taught them that there are calming signals!
And boy, do I agree about the Derby – I used to watch it – until Ruffian – then year after year – another and another. Not just in the Derby, but the number of horses – BABIES – that are crippled or killed just so some human can get dressed up & show off!
Sore subject!! And I’m sure it is with all of us here.
Maggie, it was decades ago but a friend came into a meeting. She was pregnant and after getting out of her car, an older man walked up and touched her belly, smiled and said, Little Mother” She was shaken. How is this remotely not a kind of aggressive kindness?
Beautiful blog – my heart pains for little Millie at the end.
Seems having a dog isn’t the same as being a dog person maybe? I agree, thanks Stephanie.
Makes me wonder just how many times she was forced to “meet” a strange dog before. Poor little creature. I have known far too many people over the years that thought they were good caretakers of their animals – but not in my mind. I’m sure they thought I was too focused on my animals – all of them. Oh well, right?
“That sunset, and Misters trotter.” Please continue to be that kind of jerk. Yup , clear as day, follows you with his eyes and presses his back close.
Just knew this was gonna be a great read.
Thank you, my friend. Card-carrying Loudmouth Party-pooper Jerk 🙂
And another thing. How is it that human calming signals are missed or ignored .
And another thing. How is it that human calming signals are missed or ignored . Even as small children we step back, tilt our chin down with eyes lowered, often the head sideways. Then become increasingly obvious by stepping away even further, then tears and maybe a howell. As adults , might we just growl? Hee Hee
The ways we don’t listen are numerous, or maybe we just think we know better. I’ll work on my growl.
Ooh, I felt this right in my stomach. Several times lately I’ve had to use my un-British Loud Voice to say “No, thank you” just like that – and then am left feeling I was rude for being polite. My dogs didn’t think so, though. Thank you, Anna!
It’s more than asking if they can pet the dog, it’s respecting the answer, but we humans want what we want… thanks Amelia.
Oh, I hear you loud and clear! I have resorted to saying things like, “well, MY dog is loaded with fleas and parasites but if you don’t mind that…SURE!” “My dog has a raging case of distemper and we’re on the way to the vet for some meds to work on the vomiting and bloody diarrhea-but hey! If your dog has its shots, come on over! My guy is SOOOOOO friendly, too! And he’s a real licker-loves to give kisses! For free!”
And my all time fave that gets looks, “only if I can pet you (your spouse or child) too!”
Perhaps a stick (a carrot stick?) with a bell attached as you shake it and announce in a loud voice, “Unclean! Unclean!”?
Oh Mare, you are a walking threat. Cackling along with the Unclean chant!
Do you think I’m being sexist saying that most of this aggressive pushy behaviour seems to come from male persons? It feeds into all the things I abhor. I detest being manipulated, patronised and mansplained.
I especially detest anyone who cannot take No for an answer.
As a short woman with a professional position where the buck stopped with me, I developed a way of projecting a “ don’t fuck with me” aura that has stood me in good stead in protecting my dog, but at times with unpleasant interaction as yours above. How dare anyone presume they are welcome into my or my dog’s world ?
No is a complete sentence
Thanks, Goanna. Great comment, and yes, I always wonder who is raised to be compliant and who is raised to get their way… It’s sexist, but it might not be you!
It’s very hard not to get angry in situations like you and Mister we’re in. There is a certain “deafness” among some dog owners. When our dog Darby was still alive, we told many people that he was not “friendly” when people approached too closely with their dogs. He could be ok, but I refused to put him to the test over and over. What surprised and angered me that as the number of people who still let their loose dog approach.
I agree. Traveling like we do is stressful and that constant testing you mention makes it worse. I think some people have dogs for no better reason that social engagement with people, says this person who uses her dog to avoid the same!! Thanks, Maureen, I agree.
That was a very kind way for a loud-mouthed party pooper to end her essay, though I suspect it was inspired more by the simple, plain truth. Woof.
I’m not perfect, as any of my dogs would tell you. Woof-woof.
Thank you for this! Though both my corgis are gone now, both too soon for me, I remember times when an incident was my fault—for giving in, not saying no enough times to someone who was sure I was wrong. The guilt remains along with the mourning. The love, though, thankfully, is stronger.
Thanks Pat. The love of “bad” dogs sustains us, through all.
Hmm, Anna. I need to find you that T-shirt that says “Go Away. I’ve Got Enough Friends!”
Hi to Mister.
Lynell, okay, as long as we are still friends!
In this week of the very real threat of Roe v Wade being overturned, (yes I went there) it’s hard not to ponder in what other situations that “gentleman” may have refused to understand when a woman says no, she means no. We’re barrelling into the 21st century people – what the ever-loving heck?!
I try to adhere to the “no touch, to talk, no eye contact” method of dog introduction. And it’s much pleasanter when dog meetings happen organically.
I dont use the “like” button all that much – but if there was one here – I would! I agree completely regarding the whole NO!
I was thinking what you were thinking. Yes. Good to hear from you Christian.
Hell yes. I bet that gentleman used to say, “Smile! You’ve got such a pretty smile” Not as bad as ignoring No, but it’s in the toolkit of a mindset that makes it hard to be a good advocate for our animals, our children, ourselves……
You are actually much nicer than me. No surprise there. I actually WANT to be asked if my dog(s) are bad with others so I can say, “Yes. Yes they are. They are the meanest MFers I know. They were bred to stand down a 2,000 lb. rank bull and they would lay down their life for me in a NY minute. So how ’bout it? You and Fluffy wanna give it a go?” If they know what’s good for them they’d go running in the opposite direction. No exaggerations have been made here. None.
Yes and yes! I have the same response with people and my horses. If I’m in a parking lot at my trailer and a gaggle of kids comes by, screaming about how they want to pet the horse, I say very nicely, “My horse is NOT good with children.” My horse is actually great with kids but I insist they be as respectful of him as he is of them. Call me crabby-pants but this is non-negotiable.
Thank you, Ms. Crabby-pants. I think you’re wonderful.
Between belly-laughing out loud and vibrating with resonance (while welling up just a bit at your confirmation of my own introverted self’s conviction that it truly IS “too people-y” outside), I am even more convinced that the serendipitous and now much-anticipated opportunity to host you on your 2022 tour out West is the grand Universe’s (and painter of sunsets) testimony to your Fine Art. Yes! Yes! Yes! ~L
Oh Leslie. I’ll do my best, no pressure. 🙂 Then at the end of the day, scamper off to Mister. See you soon!
And we will very graciously and respectfully support you. As you scamper! 😊
Peggy and I travel as much as possible with our dog. Usually, we meet nice people, and she (Asha, not Peggy) really likes meeting people, just not licking them. But there are also times when we do a big circle around some folks and certain dogs. Just a sense that they aren’t to be fully trusted. Life is a challenge but made much easier when Asha is with us. Glad you and Mister are having some fine trips. (Still sorry that we get to see you this month.)
Yes, so much nicer to travel with the “limitations” and blessings of having a dog along. Thanks, Chaz, Hi to Asha and Peggy, and really sorry to miss you, too.
Anna, you’ve done it again–you make me feel like I’m not alone in this world! “Why do we use animals as hand puppets for our egos?” The core question of my life with animals. And I loved the way you describe Mister’s signs of tension and stress–my dog is like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh–very bouncy–her calming signals are as clear as can be. Another affirmation that all the little things we observe have deep meaning to our dear companions.
Those calming signal are easy to blow through with a stoic like mine, and easy to want to correct in your dog. Listening is the right answer, thanks, Karen.