The term consent is defined by good old Google as “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something”.
Most people generally get that idea when applying it to other people. You, for example wouldn’t walk up to me and rub my hair (even my husband wouldn’t do that). I presume you wouldn’t want your hair rubbed by a stranger either.
So why do so many of us rub dogs?
A pat on the head is a traditional greeting from human to dog, which relatively recently was changed to a hand in the face, “let them sniff” children are told by their parents. Ask yourself though, how would you like a pat on the head from a stranger, or even worse, one of their hands in your face to sniff?
In reality polite dogs greet each other like polite people do. They see each other, then take it in turns to offer signs of consent, silently saying things like “yes that’s OK you can come closer” or “stay away, I’m not really interested in you”.
The signals they share are either distance increasing signals (meaning stay away) they can range from looking away, licking lips or even barking. Or they are distance decreasing signals (meaning interest, let’s say hello) which can be wagging and relaxed body language, curving around and general, gentle signs of consent.
When this is allowed to happen naturally and is carefully observed, it’s fascinating to see. However, when people get involved with their hair rubbing and hand sticking, dogs tend to be a little ignored. We see them being fussed, leaned over and literally harassed by desperate people who want to interact more than observe.
Their body language and communication are so fascinating too, so much more fascinating than we can see when we impose our attention onto them. I would say the ability to watch our dogs and their wonderfully complex language is one of the best gifts they have ever given us.
So I suspect you believe very much in consent for people, ask yourself though – how well practiced is your ability of waiting for consent from dogs?