What is your first instinct when you see a handsome dog? Do you squeal with excitement and head towards it? Do you immediately bend over to pet it? We’ve ALL done it and chances are you’ve been greeted with a varying number of results. My point? Not all dogs are super people friendly. Many dogs (more than you would think) are nervous around people, but warm up quickly if greeted in the proper manner. Unfortunately, too many people are oblivious to warning signs and are unable to read a dog’s body language to determine whether it is comfortable with strangers.
To begin with, you should assume that every dog is not people friendly, unless its proves you otherwise. Always, always, always asked the owner before you pet a dog! According to Dr. Sophia Yin, “The consensus among animal behavior professionals is that the major cause of dog bites to humans is related to failure of owners and dog bite victims to recognize when dogs are fearful and know how to approach and greet dogs appropriately.” <source>
So why have I chosen to write on this topic today? I’m glad you ask. I have an 18 month old male border collie, Maverick, who I love unconditionally. Like many adolescent male dogs, Maverick has fear aggression towards most strangers and some new dogs. We’ve been working hard on counter conditioning and he is making great strides, but we still have a long road of socialization and training ahead.
We had two encounters this weekend, while socializing Maverick, that solidified the concept that greeting a dog properly makes a world of difference.
Instance 1: We took Maverick to Natural Pawz in the Heights on Friday night. The store associates could not have been more friendly! When we first got there, one of them came up to us and asked if he could give Maverick a treat. We agreed, but did warn him that Maverick was a bit fearful of strangers. He bent down to feed Maverick a treat and proceeded to pet him on the head while making direct eye contact and talking softly. There are a couple glaring mistakes here and I’m sure I don’t need to point them out. Maverick tolerated this for a minute or so and eventually barked at the associate. This same exact encounter happened with the second associate as we were checking out. The good news is that the people were very friendly and understanding and we were very pleased overall with our service.
Instance 2: After a morning of dock diving at Meadowlake Pet Resort, we took Maverick and Kinsey to Bass Pro Shop out in Pearland to work on some socialization. Maverick behaved VERY well. He stuck close to his dad and obeyed his commands diligently, even though we could see he was a little nervous about the whole situation. On our way out, a sales associate, who loves border collies as we do, asked if she could pet them. We agreed, and then discussed with her how Maverick was working on his socialization and she might want to keep her distance. She immediately turned her back to him and reached out her hand to let him smell. He approached her calmly and smelled her. She fed him a treat and he very sweetly put his paw in her hand. SUCCESS! She continued to talk softly and allow him to smell her while continuing not to make eye contact or face him directly. What a wonderful reminder that properly greeting a dog makes all the difference!
So, with all that said here are a few tips on greeting a dog properly!
Dr. Sophia Yin has a excellent article on this and I highly encourage you to read (it’s short).
- Always ask first to pet a dog
- Approach slowly
- Do not face or crouch over the dog; Keep side or back facing dog.
- Let the dog come to you and give it time to give you the “sniff test”
- If dog approaches you, pet side of the body, not the head