14 Dec 2020
Most mornings on my dog walk, we pass a gentleman and his heavily muzzled dog.
In the early days, the man would immediately cross to the other side of the road or park, grab a tighter hold of the lead to his dog, and give a polite nod while trying to stop his dog from getting loose and trying to rip my dogs throat out. Well – that’s what I assume was the plan.
My dog reacted to the struggles of the other dog and started to make noises as if she could be a throat ripper too. It was a bit ludicrous with her looking like a fluff ball in a bright pink harness, but I’m sure she figured she could do the job if needed.
Over the weeks and months and years we have been doing this walk and catching sight of man and muzzled dog, we have extended our nodding greeting to politely calling out hello and good morning, even commenting on the weather or other points of interest. Still from a bit of distance, of course.
But over the duration of the nodding relationship, the dogs have accepted that the other dog and their owner aren’t a threat. His dog just looks ahead in case there’s a genuine threat further ahead, having taken his cues from the friendly chat about the weather and so forth, that we are not something he has to worry about. My dog gives the other dog a glance, figures that she’s not going to get a game of chasey out of that dog, and finds somewhere to sniff and pee, and wait until the conversation about the weather ends.
I have walked past other dog owners, who immediately take a very firm hold on their dogs lead and move as far away from us as possible and give all indications to me and to their dog that there is a threat. Their dog reacts accordingly, and so does the pink harnessed fluff-ball. The cues given by the owners set the tone for the encounter. I make it a personal challenge now to attempt engage these owners in conversation somehow, but often they are just determined to keep their distance. My dog obviously looks fairly intimidating.
Dogs are very very good at reading cues. Some dogs are going to be aggressive regardless, but even the most heavily muzzled dog will realise that if their owner isn’t worried, then neither should they be.
For humans, taking a cue from someone shouldn’t mean you have to behave in an identical way as that person, but it does mean adjusting your behaviour to match the tone of theirs. There are many factors to take into account in this scenario – personal security being the most important, of course.
Sometimes, though, it’s not a bad thing to not read cues – I’m often the first person to come out with an inappropriate joke in a situation where humour is not warranted. Sometimes NOT reading the cues of the room can lighten the atmosphere.
Are you a cue reader, or are you a cue giver?