Whenever you want to greet a dog, don’t you just want to reach down and pet that cute dog you see while out and about for a walk? Let me first say your urge for contact and to give affection to an animal is normal. As friendly and sincere as you may be with nothing but the best intentions, the thing dogs typically judge first is whether or not you respect boundaries. How to greet a dog is very different than how to greet people. Strangers you’re introduced to usually smile, look you in the eye and reach out their hand for you to shake.
Dogs aren’t like that. They prefer a little more space and restraint. If this is news to you, or even if you need a quick brush-up course on my suggested dog-meeting routine. First dig deep inside yourself and greet the human first, that’s right the human. Dogs seem to be able to zero in on their owners’ emotional well-being and often all the other humans emotions around them as well. If the dog is OK with your interaction with his owner, she’ll be more open to (later) interacting with you.
Second, ask for the owners’ permission to approach their dog. When the senses your good intentions often she will relax and see you as “safe.” Third, avoid eye contact. I know with humans we need to look each other in the eye and connect with a smile or a wave. Dogs have their own code. Dominant dogs may see your eye contact with them as a challenge or desire for dominance. Remembering this may prevent an unpleasant altercation.
Don’t be afraid. Dogs sense fear. If you approach a dog and feel a little edgy for whatever reason, pay attention to your gut and pass by with a smile but without attempting interaction. Avoid a head on approach. If you can, position yourself so that you’re walking or standing beside the dog rather than coming at her directly from the front. If the dog and her owner are approaching you, turning your body sideways conveys a decreased threat, from the dog’s perspective.
Don’t bend over. Humans are usually taller than dogs, so it may seem natural to bend over them, but this is rarely a good approach when greeting a dog who’s unfamiliar with you. Depending on the situation, you can squat down and get more on her level, at a distance that respects her space. Let them come to you. If yours isn’t a familiar face, allowing the dog to approach you first is a good rule of thumb. Offer a closed fist, when you are ready to greet a dog. After you’ve spent enough time for the dog to feel comfortable in your presence, bring your slightly balled fist toward the dog’s nose for her to smell rather than your open hand, fingers extended. Your fist is smaller, so it seems less threatening. Avoid touch their hind quarters and the head. You want to keep the dog from feeling threatened, and these are moves she may perceive as threatening.
Lastly, when a dog is “done” with you they are done. Respect that. When a dog allows you to step into her space or “orbit”, let her decide how long the “close encounter” should last. If she moves away, let her, and don’t keep reaching toward her. She’s allowed you to say hello, so let that suffice for your first introduction. Dogs, like people, tend to feel more comfortable when they’re not on guard for situations that may require them to defend themselves or their humans. Remembering these tips may help equip you to better preempt potential pooch problems, whenever you greet a dog. You may even find yourself with a new friend.
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Gail Carlson of Auntie Gail’s Happy Tails pet sitting in the Foothill has been servicing pets in the area since 2008. Click here to contact Gail for Pet Sitting in Sunland, CA and surrounding areas.