The Friendly Introvert

As I write this, I’m sat in my local coffee shop, La Cave on Hammersmith Grove. I, like an estimated 25-40% of the population, am an introvert (quick definition: we get our energy from alone time, and are generally depleted by too much time interacting with others). I like to think that I am, on the whole, friendly. I had a minimal amount of small talk with the barista, I smiled at another couple who were ordering before me, and I exchanged ‘Hellos’ with the local postman on the way here.

However, if someone I didn’t know or didn’t know well, was to sit down next to me and started wittering on, or asking me personal questions, or, even worse touched my arm or hair or face my ‘friendliness’ might slip.

This person would have invaded my personal space and crossed the boundaries of accepted social interaction. Or at least, the boundaries of accepted social interaction that I have in place for my life.

I might start to point out that I have work to do that I’m busy. After that, if this person is still invading my space, I might try ignoring them. As a real act of desperation, I might ask them to leave me alone, or I might move to another seat. Failing all that, I might lash out in a very English way, with a stern comment, or a complaint to the barista.

WTF has this got to do with dogs?

So I’ve given you insight into my deepest fears in public spaces, and you’re probably wondering what on earth this has to do with dogs?

Some dogs are the equivalent of introverts. Mine is, at times. He can deal with the interaction once a week at daycare, but he’s exhausted for a day afterwards. He can play with dogs off lead in the park. Some dogs anyway. Some he has no interest in. And that’s his choice.

Some dogs are even more extreme than this. They will be happy going outside with their owner, but have no interest in interacting with any other dog, and sometimes any other person. But crucially, left to their own devices they are polite members of society.

The trouble comes when a ‘friendly’ extremely extroverted dog comes into the mix.

Friendly dog, or just rude?

Some dog owners think that a dog that wants to run straight up and ‘say hello’ to every dog or person they pass is a ‘friendly’ dog. These owners are usually owners of just such a dog. These are not ‘friendly’ dogs. These are dogs that are crossing the lines of accepted social interactions in the dog world. They are the tourist on the train who’s trying to strike up a conversation with commuters and then stands on the left-hand side of the escalator.

When these owners and their dogs come across an introverted dog, and their dog starts to strain on the leash to be ‘friendly’, and the introverted dog’s guardian stammers a very British “ah, no sorry, he’s not really…” they will often get interrupted with a “Don’t Worry. My dog’s friendly” in a very confident, self-assured manner. And really the only answer to that is, “well my dog isn’t friendly”.

And that’s SO FUCKING ANNOYING to say because it’s just not true! That dog IS friendly. He’s just not into having another dog launch himself into his face, and rudely ask personal questions while touching their hair. Another option I have used is to say that your dog is contagious with something like kennel cough, or at an extreme, Parvo. But why do we have to lie? Why can’t we tell the truth that “Sorry, your dog is being very rude, and frankly, my dog isn’t very tolerant of rude dogs, and he may lash out.”

What ends up happening is that the introverted dog is labelled as unfriendly. And I’ve seen comments online about this, either by the owners of ‘friendly’ dogs, or non-dog owners that think all dogs should be meety-greety-in-your-face-types. Some of these comments state that ‘unfriendly’ dogs should be muzzled in public. That they need to be sent away to boot camp for training. That they weren’t socialised well as a puppy (socialisation isn’t what a lot of people think it is).

So, going back to me in my coffee shop. Should I be gagged, in case someone rude was to come up to me, and I’d be tempted to lash out with words? Should I be sent off for brainwashing, or thrown into a room of over the top extroverts to ‘get me used to it’? No? So why are we so quick to prescribe the same things for our dogs?

What can we as owners, guardians and parents do?

If you’re the owner of an introverted dog, stand up for your dog! Try to avoid the ‘not friendly’ label, use phrases such as “he’s not that into dogs he doesn’t know”, “He’s a bit socialised-out for today”, or “She’s like me and is a bit of an introvert”. Try not to be so goddamned polite in the face of impolite behaviour.

If you’re the owner of a more extroverted dog, I’m not trying to slate that. I am biased, though; I’m an introvert and the owner of an introverted dog. I feel the need to counter-balance the fact that the general population leans towards extroversion (in humans as well as dogs). But as the owner of an extroverted dog, you do have a responsibility not to allow your dog the opportunity to intimidate other dogs. It doesn’t matter their size, that kind of in-your-face greeting does scare some dogs. I read a great piece recently that advocates asking “Is it better to stay away” than “can he say hello?”. It takes the pressure off the other owner and makes it a lot easier for them to avoid unwanted contact.

And so now, I must sign off, as there seems to be a communal conversation starting in the coffee shop, and I need to remove myself before a question gets thrown my way….

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