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Consent – so simple even a dog can understand it

Consent; it’s a big topic. We find that schools regularly talk to their pupils about the issue of consent and it’s a huge discussion across social media. Did you know that before we touch a dog, we should get their consent too? But how do you gain consent from a dog, who cannot speak to answer our questions?

Well, it’s so simple even a dog could understand it.

Let’s imagine you see a dog (yours or someone else’s). You’d really like to stroke the dog. If they belong to someone else, you check with the owner that it would be ok to do so, and the owner says that you can. This is only the owner’s consent; we still need to check in with the dog.

If the dog approaches you in a relaxed way, stays by you, maybe leans into you or nuzzles at you. Then you know they want some attention; great. Stroke the dog.

If the dog approaches you and seems interested in being stroked, but then starts to duck away from your hand, leans away or moves away, then perhaps they weren’t as interested after all. They looked like they wanted attention, but they changed their mind, or perhaps being stroked wasn’t want they really wanted. Do not stroke the dog.

If the dog does not come over, or is engaged in another activity such as eating, chewing a toy, sniffing and exploring on a walk or simply resting, then they do not want to be stroked. They have not consented. This is the important bit; just because you want to stroke the dog, and may know they are friendly, does not entitle you to just stroke them whenever you please.

Don’t get annoyed at them for not wanting to be stroked. Don’t force them to be stroked. They just don’t want it right now. This may be disappointing when you know and love the dog, but their need for space needs to be respected too.

Just because the dog wanted attention from you at another time in the past, does not mean they will want attention now. Just because they’re happy being stroked today, does not mean they won’t change their mind tomorrow. It is important to see if the dog consents to being stroked each time.

If we can allow our dogs the time and space to let us know what they want, then they will feel much happier and calmer around us which helps improve their welfare and our own safety.