That Dog Invades My Personal Space
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Some people are very uncomfortable when a dog invades their personal space. This can be a very serious problem for the dog. It can’t help being a dog. And unless this is somehow resolved well, the dog is either going to be abandoned or the relationship with that person is going to be damaged or end. I have mentioned before that there are relationship deal breakers when it comes to owning a dog, and this is potentially one of those situations. If you know you might be bringing a dog into the home, in a situation where there will be conflict over personal space, don’t get a dog or don’t move in.
Everyone has “zones” of distance, or personal space, around them. In some circumstances, we allow people and animals closer and closer to us, up to the point of not only touching us, but physically interacting with us. In other circumstances, we feel more and more uncomfortable, anxious, and even angry if those zones are crossed. The distance allowed is dependent upon the relationship with that other person or animal, and the social situation in which it occurs. The more intimate the relationship, both at that moment and how closely we are bonded, the closer we’ll allow another person or animal into those zones. Our cultural traditions also determine when it is appropriate to get close or to maintain more distance. I also believe that age plays a factor, since young children often don’t defend their personal space as much as an adult. Further, some people are neurotic, and that also affects their ideas of appropriate personal space.
Thus, strangers are typically kept at a greater distance. Acquaintances closer, friends even closer and maybe even touching casually, family (and especially our own children) even closer. And the closest, of course, are those we are pair bonded to, such as a husband and wife. Then again, some strangers are allowed very close to us, such as a doctor, because we choose to let them, though the motivation isn’t social, but self preservation. We allow strangers to be pretty close to us in an elevator, or sitting next to us in a movie theater, but we almost pretend they aren’t really there. We also expect that some people will have their personal space violated by force, such as when a police officer arrests and handcuffs a criminal. In some cultures, dogs are considered unclean, so people with those beliefs want dogs as far away as possible. Dog haters also don’t want dogs around them, even in their own neighborhood, city or state. And I’m sure you can think of many other examples.
The different zones have been defined as intimate (touching to about 18 inches), personal (about 18 inches to 4 feet), social (4 to 8 feet), and public (8 or more feet). Even though these distances can vary from one person to another, it is important to note that if these zones are violated, breaking our biologically, traditionally, and learned rules, we feel upset and it activates our flight instincts, so those feelings cause us to do behaviors that increase the distance between us and the other person or animal. If these zones are not violated, and are entered appropriately, then we feel comfortable.
Problems arise when it involves a dog.
First, dogs have different personal space “zones” than humans. Some of this is purely a function of being a different species than a human. Some of it is a function of early socialization and learning. Some of it is affected by a dog’s emotional state (fear, anxiety, aggression, happy, etc.). And some has to do with that dog’s temperament (which is a combination of the dog’s breed, and how that is expressed as that particular dog’s personality).
When a human and dog’s personal space boundaries mostly match, then they are going to do pretty well together. A well socialized, bred, trained, and managed dog is generally going to get along with most people. A person that is comfortable with and likes dogs is also generally going to get along with most dogs. On the other hand, the opposite is also true. Dogs with different zone boundaries, and rules for those boundaries, than the people it lives with are going to find themselves in conflict.
Second, it is very difficult for a “dog person” to understand why someone who isn’t a “dog person” is having trouble being around or interacting their dog. And the reverse is also true. The person who likes dogs wants them around. The person that isn’t comfortable with them being around, will do things to get away from the dog. In those circumstances, the dog is often put in an impossible situation, often banished in some way. The dog person is asked to betray their relationship with their dog in favor of their relationship with the other person. And the “non-dog person” is being asked to be around a dog that they don’t like, or don’t want very near them. And the dog notices all of this, and it makes the dog neurotic: anxious or even aggressive towards the “non-dog person”, and often more clingy and protective of the “dog person”.
As a general rule, if the dog is very well mannered and obedient, the dog is often at least tolerated by the “non-dog person”. But, many times, even this isn’t enough, and an ultimatum is given: it’s the dog or me. That becomes a very serious problem if it is a fight among neighbors, and also a very serious problem if it involves the breakup of a significant relationship.
Since dogs are dogs, and they are made to live in a human society, I recommend always taking into consideration what would be best for the dog. Whether you keep the dog or find the dog another home, make sure whatever happens is humane, and good for the dog. It isn’t right to abandon a dog to a shelter (that will put the dog to death), or to banish the dog to the back yard or garage, or to live in a home where it isn’t loved. Regarding the people, some preplanning is necessary, if at all possible. Don’t get bonded to someone that doesn’t like your dog. Don’t bond to someone if you don’t like their dog. Don’t move into a neighborhood where a dog hater can harm your dog, or force you to get rid of your dog. And if you have no choice, and love your dog, then fight for your right to own a dog, and to enjoy your dog.
I would never let someone force me to get rid of my dog, or to neglect my dog, or banish my dog. If it is them or the dog, I’m choosing my dog.
No amount of training can make a dog be acceptable to someone that isn’t a “dog person”. Take that into consideration, and don’t punish a dog for just being a dog.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.