Issue 3: March 09

Dear Max,

When I'm in my yard, passers-by and visitors with whom I'm unfamiliar frequently walk up to the fence, usually to try and pet me. Sometimes they stick their hands through the slats. This is frustrating to me: Here I am guarding my territory, trying to let humans know that they need to stay at a distance, but they're not getting my message. They may say things like, "She's wagging her tail, so she must be friendly." Yes, I'm a friendly dog, but I'm also doing my job, protecting my family's space. I don't necessarily want to be approached when I'm "on duty." How can I get people to understand this?

- Barking in Circles

Dear Barking,

Humans sometimes have trouble interpreting doggie-speak. After all, it's not just the barks and whines that have meaning, but also tail position, eye contact, and body posture.

A moving tail actually means you have a willingness to interact, and not necessarily in a friendly way. On the other hand, a tucked tail means you're scared, which is probably not the case in this situation when you're protecting your territory. When you're barking on the other side of your fence, I bet your tail is moving around because you mean business.

Another thing humans can get confused about is eye contact. They think eye contact is good, but staring to us is actually a challenge, even a sign of aggression. So if you're staring someone down, your tail twitching side to side, they should stay away!

Most humans understand that lying on the floor belly up is a pretty trusting position. But you're probably strutting, chest out and back fur up, very proud to be your family's protector. Only your owner gets to pet your furry tummy.

Someday maybe we'll have a translator for doggie-human speak. But until then, please have patience with these people, bark as loud as you can, and hopefully they'll get the message to stay away.

A note to you humans who may be reading: Before walking up to a dog whom you don't know, always ask someone in charge if the dog likes to be petted. This simple gesture may make life easier for everyone.

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