My Dog Is Friendly

“My dog is friendly.”

The other day, I said that to one of my neighbors. He did not believe me.

Being a Siberian Husky, Shania can look pretty fierce, like a wolf. As a result, some people are afraid of her.

“My dog is friendly” is a very commonly used phrase. Like my neighbor, I don’t usually believe it either. Why is that?

  • Where does the friendly dog come from?
  • Why do dog owners love to say this?
  • What does the friendly dog really mean?
  • Why do people generally not believe it?

Where Does the Friendly Dog Come From?

Many of us expect our dog to be friendly to everyone, and every dog, that he meets. Some of us, may even expect our dog to be friendly to cats, birds, and rabbits.

Much of this probably comes from movies and television shows. After all, Lassie is friendly, fun, playful and well-behaved with the good guys, and the good animals. She foils the bad guys, but only in a funny, clever, entertaining, and delightful fashion; never in a “going in for the kill” fashion.

However, there are several problems with this Lassie standard

  • Lassie is a Collie.
  • Lassie is a fictional character!

Consider our dog’s ancestor – the wolf.

When wolves from different packs meet, they usually chase each other away from the contested territory. Sometimes, they may fight or even kill each other.

It is true that we have domesticated dogs through millennia of selective breeding. As a result, they are a lot more tame and social compared to their wolf ancestors.

However, this does not mean that we should expect our dogs to be friendly to everyone, and everything that they meet.

Nor should be expect them to tolerate rude, or threatening behavior, with a smile on their face.

We humans pride ourselves on being civilized, and much evolved from our wild and barbaric roots. Yet, we have very clear rules on social interaction. We even have laws that prohibit certain types of unacceptable social behavior. Those who break the laws are fined, or locked away.

Why then should we expect our dogs to tolerate rude behavior from people, or from other dogs?

Instead, we should protect them; especially when there are so few human laws that currently do so.

What Does “My Dog is Friendly” Mean?

The friendly dog can mean very many things. Some people claim that their dog is friendly – IF in their experience

  • The dog has not caused puncture wounds on people.
  • The dog has not caused puncture wounds on the family dogs.
  • The dog does not mean to cause damage to others.

Many of us are very good at inventing nice-sounding reasons for our dog’s previous mis-behaviors and attacks.

The other day I was at the vet with my puppy. We brought her there for her second round of shots. In the waiting room there were two guys with a young Pit Bull.

After waiting a short while, in walks a little Pug with a big attitude. This little dog definitely has a strong Shiba Inu complex! 😀

The Pug walks in like he owns the place, invades the Pit Bull’s space, and starts sniffing his butt. The Pittie did not like this, understandably so, and warned the Pug off with a growl. In return, he got hit all over the place including the muzzle, ears, and head. Meanwhile, one of the owners says, “Oh she is friendly, she doesn’t mean that.”


When dogs growl, it is a warning and they *do* mean it. If we keep ignoring the growl, the dog will likely escalate and start using his teeth. Also, there is nothing wrong with warning a rude dog away.

No wonder “My dog is friendly”, has become such a meaningless phrase.

As I understand it, all dogs have an aggression threshold. Dogs with high thresholds can endure a lot of aggravation before resorting to aggressive behavior. Dogs with low aggression thresholds may show teeth or attack if he does not like the way you look or smell.

We can socialize and train our dogs to tolerate new people, new environments, and new experiences. However, it is important to recognize that ALL dogs have an aggression threshold. Even the most tolerant dogs can be pushed beyond their limit.

In addition, dogs may become aggressive for a variety of reasons including fear, pain, excitement, protection, and much more. Because of shows like The Dog Whisperer, it has become popular to attribute all types of aggressive behavior to dominance. Misdiagnosing the source of a dog’s aggression will further worsen his behavior and degrade his quality of life.

Similarly, allowing aggressive behavior, or denying that our dogs are capable of aggression will also bring the same results.

Both are dangerous.

Why Is the Friendly Dog So Important?

As I see it, the friendly dog is mostly a self-ego boosting device.

How our dog behaves with people and other dogs reflect on our own dog parenting skills. When our dog behaves badly, is unfriendly, or God forbid, shows teeth, we feel embarrassed because it reflects poorly on us.

We are weak and not a good pack leader, that is why our dog is not listening to us.

Whenever I see misbehaving dogs, the owners are very good at explaining it away.

  • “Max doesn’t mean it, he just doesn’t know his strength.”
  • “Max just wants to play.”
  • “Max is just excited.”
  • “Max did that accidentally.”
  • “It must be your dog coz Max is great with all other dogs.”

By deflecting blame from our own dog, we deflect blame from ourselves.

The other day I met a lady with a hyper small dog that was pulling, and barking like crazy. She stops and asks me, “Is your dog friendly? My dog just wants to play.”

“No”, I answered, “He does not like other dogs sniffing his butt.”

DOH! I definitely was not going to let Sephy meet a dog like that. It would only be setting him up for failure, not to mention putting him through the stress of a rude-dog encounter.

Hyper-dog-lady was really taken aback. I suppose the unfriendly dog is a bit of a rarity. However, friendliness and my neighborhood dog parenting reputation, matter less to me than the actual welfare of my dog.

What do you think? Is your dog friendly?

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  1. Lydia says

    Hello! I have a question.

    My Belgian Shepherd, Obsidian, is a really great dog, really. However, he has a bit of a thing with mistrust with CERTAIN dogs. Usually intact males (more passive intact males he does not mind) or very rude dogs. I guess I’ll just give a scenario to make my concern clear.

    Today we were at the dog park and he met a new dog there, young Rottie named Turner. Very sweet dog–a little clingy. They did the behind sniff–it was very good. No tension, just hellos. Obsidian is doing his thing: greeting the “regulars,” his friends, the people, etc. Turner comes up to him, right into his face, and Obsidian just bares his teeth–no noise. See, that’s what he only does: bares his teeth. That’s it! No growling. He get some whale eye, or turn his head away–but Turner (or any dog a similar situation) just continues to stick its face closer and closer to Obsidian’s. Of course, Obsidian then snaps and tells the dog off. And, of course, it looks like Obsidian snapped for no reason, and I get nasty looks from the new dog’s owner. Turner then backed off, but tried to do it multiple times! I did not scold Ob for warning him, of course. I don’t want to teach him that his lip-raise is a bad thing so he should just snap first. I have been neutrally calling him to me just to get him out of the situation, since I can clearly see that the new dog is not reading Ob’s only sign.

    He does not do this with every dog, just ones that he trusts less. Most new dogs he will trust immediately, and others he is more cautious. I can usually tell right before it’s going to be a problem due to the other dog’s manners, so I remove him. Don’t want to set him up for failure! Turner tried three times: first resulting in Obsidian telling him off, then me calling him back twice. After that it was no problem–Turner got the hint and they both were fine. Once a relationship and trust is built, Obsidian is great. And yes, there are been instances in the past when he was a puppy where dogs were rude, pushed him to his limits, and attacked him before I could intervene. That built this mistrust he has developed.

    What is your advice for me? Should I just continue to call him away when I see that a dog is continuing to get in his face without heed of warning? I know removing him is an option, but I try not to because there are other dog friends with whom he can socialize. It’s just that ONE moment–but it never gets bloody unless the other dog is NOT dog park material at ALL and it is instigating fights.

    Thank you so much!!

    • shibashake says

      Yeah, I stopped going to enclosed dog parks because my Shiba was picking up a lot of bad social habits. The dog parks we visited were very high stimulus, with very little structure and supervision. Sometimes, people would bring in young kids who ran around playing and shouting.

      In the end, we did smaller, structured play-groups, with dogs that I know will fit well with Sephy’s temperament. I supervised during play, we had play rules, everyone had a good time, and Sephy learned good social behaviors.

      I think it really depends a lot on the temperament of the dog, his social tolerance level, and how negative experiences affect him. The problem with enclosed dog parks is that it is very unpredictable, and as you say, things can escalate very quickly.

      More on Sephy’s dog park experiences. (The comments section has more on other people’s experiences at the dog park.)

  2. LuckyDog says

    Loved your article!

    I used to always ‘correct’ my dogs when they growled or showed their teeth. Then I went to a local dog trainer who said if you don’t allow them to ‘warn’ (i.e. train them not to warn), then their next reaction will be to attack. Makes sense to me. I have never forgot that, and really try to pay attention now when my dogs are ‘warning’ about something.

    I actually find it quite fulfulling to try to figure out what my dogs mean by their actions, reactions, and body language (of course, who knows if I’m getting right though)

  3. Ruth says

    I love your blog posts – finally, something that makes sense to me about dog behaviour.

    My dog is a Westie and she’s not overly interested in being friends with every dog she meets. She sometimes meets a dog at the park who she instigates a play session with, but mostly she likes to hunt and sniff in the bushes for prey.

    When she’s approached by big dogs, I always warn the owners that she will probably bite and to keep away. Polly gives no verbal warning and goes from sniffing and circling to attack. Big dog owners can’t believe that their dog is at risk and usually don’t listen – with disastrous results for their dog’s snout.

    I’m getting Polly a new Westie to play with and having read your posts, I’ve got some great plans for introducing the new puppy safely so that Polly doesn’t see her as an (expensive) snack 🙂

  4. Merelf says

    One time I was out in the country with our dog that we always keep on leash and there was a small white fuzz ball zooming around everywhere. The owner had no control over his dog and it did not listen to my dogs warnings. So when my dog lunged at the annoying little fuzz ball he go all upset a picked up his dog right away, Which promptly bit him and I got blamed for it.. Now explained that one to me Lol

  5. cassie says

    Our Shiba, Aurora, has always been extremely friendly with people, but not with strange dogs. I’ve had to on numerous occasions tell (and sometimes yell to) people who were letting their dog rush up to Aurora that she is not friendly with dogs she does not know already. It really irks me that so many dog owners just assume that all dogs will get along with each other. That’s why when it comes to bringing Aurora places like parks, hiking, beaches, etc. I make sure that dogs are allowed on leash only so strange dogs won’t just rush up on her and totally freak her out.

    • shibashake says

      Hi Cassie,
      I agree with you 101%!!!

      One time I met this clueless individual in the park who let his two little chihuahuas run around free-range even when he had absolutely no voice control over them. True, they are small dogs, but it is really unfair to the other dogs that have to endure rude yipping and invasion of space without being able to give an appropriate response.

      I asked him to remove his dog from my Shiba’s space. He carried his dog 2 feet away and put him down again. DOH! Of course the dog came right back. Then he said that his dog wouldn’t be able to hurt my dog – DOH! but *my* dog can surely hurt his dog and then it will be bad news for everyone.

      I seriously don’t understand what that guy was thinking. Even if we do not care about other people and other people’s dogs, we should at least care enough about our own dog to keep him safe by not letting him harass other dogs that could very easily kick his ass.

  6. Alex says

    We never tell people that Lupin is friendly, but we do tell them that he won’t hurt them. We know he is often unfriendly. He becomes uncomfortable with strangers very easily, and barks to let them know he doesn’t want them coming near. Most people ignore when he backs away from them and acts fearful, so they get the bark.

    You would be surprised how many people are so taken aback at this reaction!

    We know he’s not always friendly, but we do know that he won’t hurt them. He’d rather run away and hide.

    • shibashake says

      He becomes uncomfortable with strangers very easily, and barks to let them know he doesn’t want them coming near.

      Yeah I think dogs are pretty clear when communicating to us that they are uncomfortable with people or other dogs crowding their space. Many people continue to give the dog eye contact though, which may continue to make the dog uncomfortable.

      In general, I think the most difficult case is dealing with loose neighborhood dogs that are “friendly”, rush right up to you, invade your dogs space, and start getting in his face. Shania is a bit fearful when it comes to meeting other dogs and it is very unfair to subject her to rude dog greeting behavior. Quite simply –

      People with no off-leash control should not leave their dogs off-leash.

  7. Jess says

    Shibashake – was taking a quick break from work to read your latest blog post. Just wanted to say that the picture with the caption “My Dog Is Friendly” made me start laughing hystarically at my desk. It is now printed and taped to my printer. You’re hilarious – thanks for the laugh.

    • shibashake says

      Hi Jess,
      Glad you enjoyed it. Sephy is really the one with the talent. I just type what he tells me to. 😛

      Also thank you very much for sending over photos of Zeus. Let me know if you want me to change anything on your poem.

  8. says

    It is important to be honest with people when you have a dog who just don’t like some things. Even when properly socialized not all dogs like other dogs. They have their social circle and sometimes unwanted visits are not welcome.

    • shibashake says

      Even when properly socialized not all dogs like other dogs.

      This is very true. Many people think that if their dog gets along with the other dogs at home it means that he will be friendly with all other dogs – which is not true. Family members are clearly very different from somebody new on the street.

  9. says

    Zuko is friendly. Unless a dog stares at him, rushes him, invades his space and/or doesn’t listen to his warnings – so in other words, rude dogs. 😉 And like you, I am not afraid to tell other dog owners that he can be growly on leash if I don’t think things will go well.

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