On our many walks we encounter a lot of People.  People encounter a Newf.  And, this often leads to discourse.  What kind of dog is “he”?  How much does he eat?  How much does he weigh?  How much does he cost?  Does he shed?  Slobber?  All of these criteria are important of course to someone considering bringing a dog into their environment.  Several important questions are regularly omitted, except on rare occasion.

First of all, he is a “she”, and yes she slobbers, sheds and eats like a teenager.  And she costs a lot, more in terms of after you bring one home.  She is close to her ideal weight, occasionally a little over, and yes her coat makes her look much bigger.  Exercise and diet, along with genetics, are crucial to maintaining the health of a big dog.

Banner thoroughly enjoys her encounters with Newf-friendly people, and she usually has questions of her own, beginning with “What’s that smell?”  Dogs use scent, posture and expression for communication before words.  Banner also uses “words”, more than most Newfs we’ve known, sometimes liberally and sometimes conservatively, and sometimes I suspect she is making up her own words, but she usually gets her point(s) across.  She also uses posture and facial expression.

Can I pet her?

Most people ask first, and that is always appreciated.  Sometimes they ask as they begin diving in for a close-up, sometimes as a group.  Often people tend to expect Newfs to love kids as though all should be like the babysitter in Peter Pan (Nana) or an animation puppy, and most Newfs are very friendly.  Most Newf puppies interact and easily develop relationships, and sometimes they see kids as playmates (and kids aren’t always as vigorous).  Sometimes the kids aren’t as interested as the parents visualize, so the person interacting may be the parent instead of the kid.  Sometimes there is the kid or young adult who does a promotional act, usually including a high-pitched, “Ohhh, she’s soooo cuuuute!”  That tactic may encourage some viewers, but to Banner, it can be off-putting.  She will be tolerant and polite, even if the shrill sound is painful, but in these encounters, she quickly loses interest in interacting.  I suspect that Newfs can smell a faker easily.

It’s always good to ask first about petting. Clearly some people that approach have been in a class or have watched a program or video where someone has offered training on how to approach a strange dog. One of the clues is that they approach with their hand out-stretched to let the dog smell.  Sometimes people approach in a don’t-hurt-me posture and very tentatively offer their hand, even crouching. Sometimes people will thrust their hand in a dog’s face without gauging the dog’s reaction, and sometimes while telling me what they are doing and why without hesitating for a breath. These are ways to suggest to the dog that you are not an engaged human, and this could lead to an unexpected reaction from another dog who is less tolerant.

The human should begin by asking the dog’s handler if the dog can be petted, without rushing. With the handler’s consent, the next question should *always* be directed to the dog:  the person should gauge whether the dog is interested in being petted.

Dogs are not made of wood.  They have minds, personalities, idiosyncrasies and preferences.  A well-socialized dog handles these different interactions well, and an experienced handler will be judicious with consent when that is appropriate, but there is definitely a human component to the interactions.  So, ask the dog, even if the handler says it is OK.

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