Updated: Feb 12
We see all too often people putting their hand out to greet new dogs. The belief is to give the dog a chance to smell your hand and hopefully decide if you are friend or foe. We stress the word hopefully.
There are a couple complications with this type of greeting and why it is not the best route to take and can often lead to someone getting bitten by the dog they are meeting for the first time. Unfortunately, many people have been taught that this IS the way to meet a strange or new dog.
The problem with this method is you are ASSUMING the dog even wants to meet YOU! We tend to forget that just because we love all dogs does not mean all dogs love all humans. Now, they may come to love you AFTER they get to know you, but going for a kiss at the start of a first date is pretty forward and shoving your hand in the face of a strange dog the moment you meet is also pretty forward and a bit risky.
Dogs communicate primary through body language and part of body language is body pressure. Moving towards a dog to stop HIS forward direction is an example of body pressure. Putting a hand in a dog’s face is also body pressure, that is being forced AT him with no input from the dog. You are quite literally forcing the dog to meet you whether they want to or not and it is mildly stressful to the dog.
When dogs are in this situation and they are on a leash they can feel like they have no where to go and may react back in a negative manner. They are basically using pressure back towards you to force you to back off.
Dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 times greater than a human. They can already smell you when you approach. They do not need a hand shoved in their face to be able to smell you.
So how should you greet a new dog?
The most positive manner to meet and greet a dog is first ask the owner if it is ok to do so. Some dogs just do not care for other humans outside of their own family and that is alright, so long as they have good manners around new people. They should not be required to ‘love” everyone they meet. With that in mind, there are some dogs that do not want to meet you. The owner or handler can then say Yes or No, they are not into meeting new people. Now the dog has been set up for a good experience because you made sure they do want to meet you before presuming so.
Think of it from the standpoint that most of us want to pet and pat new dogs because we love dogs so much. That is all about us and has nothing to do with what the dog wants. We are satisfying our own need for affection and not the dog’s desire.
Now that we know what NOT to do when greeting a dog, what SHOULD we do?
As we mentioned, first and always ask the owner! Do not assume. Another reason is some owners do not want others touching their dog for perhaps they are spending hours upon hours working on impulse control and then one “well meaning” overly friendly human sets the dog and owner back by unwinding the progress they have been making.
Next, stand up straight and just stay relaxed. Do not get the dog all excited with your energy. Dogs pick up energy from their environment and that includes the people in the environment. If you are a spaz, the dog may become a spaz.
Ignore the dog! Yep, just ignore the dog. This is the hands down the BEST WAY TO MEET A DOG for the first time!!
You did not drive across town to meet the dog; you are there to meet with the human so do what you would do if the dog were not present. People comment a lot when we do an evaluation with their dog on how quickly their dog will warm up to us. The reason is we allow the dog to warm up to us instead of forcing the dog to interact or create a new relationship that they are not ready for YET.
It is amazing, but when you ignore the dog, they will usually want to meet you and for reactive or fearful dogs this is the safest and least stressful way to do it. They will typically end up coming in for a closer sniff on their own, walk away and if we continue to ignore them then come back and pursue an interaction. NOW the dog is ready to meet you!
Now you can reach down the next time they come to you and give them a pat and a stroke or two. Keep it minimal at first, do not overwhelm them. We are all familiar with “social distance” now, think of the first meeting with a dog as a social distance to start with.
Creating a stress free first meet with a dog goes a long way in establishing trust and usually eliminates the bad side effects of forcing an introduction with a new dog.
If you would like to learn more about establishing and building trust with your dog in new and sometimes intimidating environments give K9 Culture a call, our dog training facility in Carrollton, Texas, is designed to create a fun and happy atmosphere for all the dogs in training and our staff would love to meet you.
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