Trainer reveals the one biggest mistake we make with dogs that ruins their trust - and what you can do to avoid it

Young woman hugging dog on living room sofa
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you love dogs and find it hard to resist stopping for a pet every time one passes you by? Or perhaps you know someone who's just got a puppy and all you want to do is cuddle that adorable little ball of fluff and play with them using one of the best puppy toys? If so, you're in good company!

But what if we told you that being affectionate with unfamiliar dogs or dogs you don't know particular well is a big no-no? Well according to expert trainer and behaviorist Liz Foley, uninvited touch can break a dogs trust in you.

In a post shared to Instagram, Foley says that the best way you can show a dog you respect them - and therefore earn their trust - is to give them space. You can read the post below or follow along with us as we break down the key points for you.

So, why exactly is giving dogs space so important? Foley says that space not only communicates respect but it allows dogs to relax and not feel pressured to interact with you - which, funnily enough, may increase their desire to do just that!

"I know you LOVE dogs, but do you RESPECT them? Next time you see an unfamiliar dog, what is your knee jerk reaction? To go in for a pet? This is disrespect in the dog world, as you’re invading their space uninvited," Foley explains.

Comparing it to a stranger coming up and groping you, Foley says uninvited petting is not cool. 

"If you’re someone who takes a while to open up to people you might not even hug until you feel 100% comfortable with that individual after several interactions. Now imagine for a second being a sensitive puppy or dog. Everywhere you go people want to touch you. And people don’t check in to see how you feel about it."

Foley goes on to explain that we often sneak in what we think is harmless touch with dogs because petting them makes us feel happy, but it's more harmful than we realize.

"We should know better by now. We don’t do that to people’s children so why do we do it to owners’ dogs all the time? Respect is shown through giving space, which leads to building trust, and helps grow a deeper love."

In order to figure out whether a dog wants a pet, Foley suggests assessing the dog before moving closer as opposed to simply assuming it's ok to be in their personal space. She advises doing this by considering personal space as falling into three distinct categories - public, social, and personal:

Public: "Keep a distance of 12ft or more from the dog. Some dogs can be reactive in this space. Stay here and don't press forward if the dog is barking, growling or lunging."

Social: "4-12ft away from the dog. Many dogs are reactive here. Look for changes when you move to social space (licking lips, turning away, lunging)."

Personal: "1-4 ft away from the dog. Just because you can pet a dog here, doesn't mean you should. Beware, some dogs can be defensive with strangers in personal space."

"In sum: do what’s in the best interest of the dog, not what you want. Learn about social proximities and be aware of a dog’s space. It’s really quite simple," says Foley. 

Going at a dogs pace and never forcing an interaction is a great way to communicate respect and build trust with any dog. For more great canine content, check out "The five most useful things I've learned as the owner of a reactive dog."

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.