Seriously, it drives me crazy. When I hear that statement, it immediately tells me that the likelihood of this owner being able to recall their dog is slim. The old “It’s ok, he’s friendly” line, is often code for “I have no control over my dog!”
It is also worth mentioning that in some such incidences, owners are often misinterpreting signals and their dogs are actually not being friendly. However, for the sake of argument, I’ll give the owner the benefit of the doubt and agree that their dog is indeed just super friendly. But why should that matter? Because it fails to address the obvious problem: What if my dog doesn’t want to play? And what if my dog isn’t friendly?
People very often mistake “friendly” for “social” and think it’s the same thing, but they are actually two very different things. A social dog, may or may not be friendly. And equally, a friendly dog may, or may not, be social.
In simple terms, look at this way. You’re out for an evening with some friends, having a few drinks, enjoying yourselves and each other’s company. Then out of nowhere, that one super drunk person piles on in and spoils the party – being loud, obnoxious, overly flirtatious and maybe even getting a bit “handsy”. Now, they may just be being “friendly”, but they are clearly not being “social”.
This is the human equivalent of your dog running up to another one and jumping all over them. That’s right, your dog, is that drunk idiot in the bar! Of course, you don’t need me to explain how these human situations can unfold, and as such, you can extrapolate from that just how it may unfold in canine situations.
Simply stating that your dog is “friendly and just wants to play and would never bite another dog” is incredibly naive. You may be right – but if your dog isn’t picking up on social cues from the other dogs, he could very well start a fight quite by accident. And make no mistake, even if the other dog appears to be the aggressor, this may still be your dog’s fault.
Social dogs can deal with their environment and its distractions in a calm manner and disengage from it when required. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely want our dogs to be free and enjoy themselves and I certainly do want them to engage and play with other dogs. But it’s more important for our dogs to learn some social cues (the same social cues you would teach your kids) so they can operate safely and sensibly, and understand when dog A wants to play, and dog B does not.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of another owner shouting, “It’s ok, he’s friendly” – then prepare yourself, and your dog, for anything. And if you’re the one doing the shouting, and don’t have the ability to recall your dog, then put him on a leash.