“What is the best way to introduce two dogs together”? This is a very common question asked of dog trainers. What isn’t asked frequently is, “how should people introduce themselves to a dog?” That is because people think they instinctively know how to approach a dog. When it goes wrong, they ask, “why did that dog do that” (bark, growl, lunge, snip, or bite) without considering their own actions that triggered the dog to act in a fearful, defensive and aggressive manner. So let’s talk about some points to consider when encountering a dog in regards to your body language and movement. It is need to know “dog bite prevention.”
Dogs are very spacial creatures. Like you, they have personal comfort zones. Some dogs such as goofy friendly Labs (Labrador Retrievers) seem to have no personal space issues. Whereas many dogs do have a distance they like to keep until they begin to trust you. That distance can be different for the individual dog as well as due to the person it’s encountering and the environment where the encounter occurs. Dogs with trust issues will usually move backwards to your frontal approach until they understand you offer no threat and/or you have a treat to entice them to come closer and be rewarded with same.
So after gaining the dog owner’s permission to pet their dog; encourage the dog to come to you rather than invading their space. A confident person allows and even encourages others to come into their space rather than evading the person or dog’s space in this context. If the dog doesn’t want to come to you, they won’t and that is okay. We as a race understand that people have differing comfort zones in regards to standing near or far from others. However, many times people don’t stop to think and realize dogs deserve the same respect. To entice the dog to come into your space, you can offer a treat to the dog by tossing it to him or her. You can also stand sideways toward the dog. This prevents you from bending over the dog, which can be viewed as confrontational. When you stand sideways and reach out to offer a treat or pet the dog, you’ll bend slightly forward but not over the dog and thus not use social pressure.
As the dog comes into your space, place your fist down to your side so that he/she can sniff your hand. By placing the hand in a fist, your fingers aren’t exposed in case the dog becomes frightened and tries to snip your hand. If the dog appears relaxed, proceed to petting the dog under the chin and later work around to petting the neck and back of the head. Most people attempt to initially pet a dog by quickly moving their hand over the top of the dog’s head because they falsely assume that it is safer to do so as it is further from his/her teeth. However, by doing this you’ve placed social pressure on the dog that he/she may not be comfortable with, as they can’t see where the hand is going. They may also have an aversion to having their collar grabbed from past experiences.
The bite may happen as the hand comes toward their head but often times they cope with the social pressure as best as they can. However, when they are no longer able to cope or when the hand retracts, the bite occurs because they are tracking the hand as social pressure is removed. And, biting is a stress reliever for the dog. The same can happen as you step away from an unknown dog. At the end of the encounter, it is best for the dog owner to call their dog away from you or stepping between you and their dog rather than you turning and walking away from the dog.
So in review, consider these body language tips when meeting an unknown dog:
- Obtain the dog’s owner’s permission prior to petting their dog
- Entice the dog to come into your personal space
- Turn sideways to the dog so as not to present a confrontational frontal approach and to prevent leaning over the dog
- Allow the dog to sniff your fist before petting
- If the dog is relaxed, open your fist and pet under his/her chin before moving to the side and back of the head
- At the end of the encounter, have the owner call their dog to them or step between you and their dog rather than you turning and walking away from the dog.
If you and/or your children need help learning how to greet dogs, visit Michigan Dog Training located in Plymouth, Michigan or call 734-634-4152. To learn how to read human body language and be more perceptive of what your body communicates to others, contact Janette Ghedotte, MA LLP Clinical Psychologist of Accurate Body Language LLC, “From Head-to-Toes, the Body Always Shows the Truth!!”
In March 2015, Michael Burkey, President and Dog Behaviorist of Michigan Dog Training and Janette Ghedotte will co-present a body language seminar regarding people – people interactions as well as with dogs in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Stay tuned to both websites for updated information regarding this fun, interactive and eye-opening seminar.