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Some Tips for Greeting a Strange Dog

How do you greet a strange dog? One of our posts last week dealt with our unorthodox solution to stop people from getting in Ty’s face. This guest post from Deborah Flick is an awesome follow up. Thanks Deborah!

Last fall I attended a weekend-long presentation by dog trainer, behaviorist, and author extraordinaire, Jean Donaldson, at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. Jean presented a litany of offenses that humans, with the best of intentions, commit against unsuspecting canines. I cringed as she went down her list.

1. Neglect to ask the dog’s person for permission to meet their dog. GUILTY

2. Reach over the dog’s head and pat, pat, pat. GUILTY

3. Put your face up close to the dog’s face and coo, “Gimme a kiss.” GUILTY.

4. Spot a dog you want to meet, make direct, unblinking eye contact, and quicken your step as you walk directly toward the dog while making high- pitched vocalizations. GUILTY

5. You see an irresistible bundle of fur and walk up to the dog from the rear and enthusiastically rub his or her cute little tush. GUILTY

6. Approach a dog by looking directly at her and as you near with your arms extended clap, clap, clap your hands or click your fingers right at the dog’s face.GUILTY

7. You see a sweet dog laying down. You crouch over at the waist, outstretch your arm and very slowly slink toward the dog while looking directly into her eyes.GUILTY

8. Assume that because you love dogs, all dogs love you, too, and that you possess a special affinity for dogs and they with you, and therefore, you can forego the formalities that ordinary humans should observe. GUILTY

Guilty … and lucky. Any one of these situations could have ended in disaster for me and maybe, unfortunately, for the poor unsuspecting dog.

So, I set up an experiment. I asked my partner to catch me unaware, stare me in the eye while approaching, and then rapidly swish his hand past my eyes, over my forehead, and pat, pat, pat me on the head. (Go on, try it.) We talked about this little experiment on a Sunday, life intervened, and I forgot about the conversation. On the following Wednesday, he rapidly approached, flashed his hand past my eyes and pat, pat, patted my head. I ducked, scrunched my face in disgust and pulled my head away. He continued to stare, smiling and squealing how cute I was and then pat, pat, patted again. I ducked again and backed farther away. If I had canines for teeth I might have been tempted to flash them and growl to warn him off – and I know this man. Imagine if I didn’t!

Well, that’s pretty much what our dog’s experience and that’s Jean Donaldson’s point! Dogs have their own language and protocols for meeting strange dogs (and people) and it’s high time we learned what they are. After all, it just doesn’t seem fair that the full burden of figuring out how to live with another species should fall entirely on our dogs. We need to hold up our end of the relationship by learning to politely greet a stranger.

So … How do you greet a strange dog? Here are some do’s and don’ts:

1. Don’t approach the dog. Pretend you are ignoring the dog. Dogs prefer not to be zeroed in on by strangers. Have you ever noticed how well-mannered dogs meeting for the first time turn their heads away from each other?

2. Ask the dog’s person for permission to meet their dog. Assuming they say yes, follow the steps below.

3. Stay relaxed. You can yawn, put on an easy smile, or slowly blink your eyelids. Keep you body loose. All these signal to the dog that you are not a threat.

4. Do not look the dog in the eyes. While eye contact signals trustworthiness to most Westerners, in the dog world it signals aggression or threat.

5. Turn your body so you are not facing the dog. Again, being face-to-face is polite to most of us, but can signal threat or aggressive intentions to a dog. Notice how well-mannered dogs greet – as they approach they make a half-moon curve as they pass each other and turn nose to butt.

6. Stand straight or squat. Do not crouch over the dog. I doubt you want to be crouched over by a stranger and neither does your dog. It’s threatening.

7. Allow the dog to come to you. Most dogs are naturally curious and they will let you know if they are interested in you. If not, don’t take it personally.

8. If the dog shows interest by sniffing you with a relaxed posture, tail wag (not all dogs will wag and not all wagging is friendly), perhaps looking at you with soft eyes – then you can slowly offer the dog your hand for investigation.

9. Let the dog sniff your hand, if she wants to, and then gently touch the dog on the shoulder, neck or chest, not the top of the head.

10. The dog will clearly tell you if she wants more interaction or if she is finished with you. Listen to her.

11. If at any time during the interaction the dog backs away, stop what you are doing.

If you take one thing away from this post, make it this: NEVER bend over and reach your out-stretched arm to a strange dog. Dogs will love you for it.

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