It's back to school week this week.
As I drove to an appointment early yesterday morning and found myself stuck in the inevitable queue of traffic outside a school, the pavements were swarming with families and little children taking their first trek to 'big school'. Little small people sporting new school uniforms, some smiling, some looking anxious, some posing for that 'first school photo', carrying bags that looked to big for their tiny frames, some talking animatedly, others silent and tight lipped holding onto their parents hand.
The parents too, not sure whether to be happy or sad as their youngster becomes a school goer, wondering how they will cope on their first day; ready with those words of encouragement, reassurance and support as they usher them into the school gates. They have the wisdom and foresight to realise that at the end of that first day, most of the fears and insecurities will be forgotten and instead new words will be added to their vocabulary, they will have made a new friend, have added new experiences and new skills to their learning foundations and they will be tired, hungry and ready for home.
What struck me in that short period of just sitting and observing, was the individuality of each little group I looked at. There was a different emotion on every face and I could see each parent responding, some with a gentle reassuring arm around small shoulders, some sorting out a dishevelled uniform or tidying messy hair and each one ministering to the needs of their child and showing respect for their feelings and acknowledging their worries. No doubt at other times some of the behaviour of their children might not receive such an empathetic response but today, because of the day and the anticipation that has built up to towards it as the end of the summer holidays approached, most parents would be totally understanding and not expecting anything apart from nerves and excitement.
They understand that their little person is about to embark on the first level of social learning on their own and for maybe the first time in their lives will have mixed emotions. They may well have voiced theirs fear of 'I need to know where the loo is' and 'how do I know where to go,' 'what do I have to do first' 'what do I say when I speak to a teacher' the list of new experiences and fears to overcome will be easy for some and daunting for others, all feelings are valid and all taken into account, because we as humans should have respect for each other.
What has this to do with dogs you might ask? for me, respect is one of the first things I explain to any of my clients, especially if I am working with a puppy. What does respect look like when engaging with a dog, whether it's your own or one you meet in the street? To get it right and show respect takes the same forethought and care as dealing with a child. Science has proven that dogs are sentient beings, capable of emotion and reading our expressions, and what's more, each dog is an individual, not a one size fits all. That first social canine human interaction can set the tone for the rest of the conversation.
So if you would like to practise some new skills when meeting and greeting canines here are a few guidelines.....
When meeting a puppy for the first time....
There are many other subtle signs and then there are those dogs that have tried being polite, have not been respected and then feel the need to growl, bark or show teeth and even defend their space. I don't think any of us would feel proud if we reduced a child to screaming, crying and lashing out with their fists. It really is time to give dogs the same consideration and respect. Give them choice so they don't need to use their voice.
Lets go back to school and re learn respect, care and consideration for humans and canines alike.