Look at this face. You want to pet him, don’t you? Have you ever wondered if he wanted you to pet him? Just because a dog is cute and looks good to you does not mean he or she loves to be touched; especially by strangers.
I am not suggesting that you get on hands and knees, wiggle your bum and ask every dog you meet if they want to be touched nor am I saying that we should all roll onto our backs and let dogs pet us. We do, however, need to remember that OUR desire to touch an animal may not be received with enthusiasm. Some tips to remember the next time you MUST say hello to a ridiculously cute dog:
Ask. If you are walking into someone’s home or meet a dog on the street, ask if you may say hello to their dog. I can not tell you how many times I am out with Finn or a client’s dog and folks just rush us, without permission. Just ask. It is polite and prevents a bite from a dog who downright does not like people.
Listen. If the dog’s guardian tells you his or her dog is shy, do not reinforce those fears by mimicking Godzilla as you chase their dog into a corner.
Watch. If the super cute dog walks away from you, lowers their head or hides behind their owner; those behaviors clearly indicate varying levels of disinterest in you. If you give in to your desires and force your affection on the dog to feed your own satisfaction, you could make the fears worse or get bitten. Remember, flight or fight? If flight does not work, your actions might be met with fight. Not good for you or the dog.
Help. If you sit in a chair, at a far distance, and avoid eye contact, you’ll help the dog feel less threatened. Crouching helps too but if the dog has ANY history of biting (or if the dog’s bite history is unknown), you put yourself in a dangerous position by getting on the floor. If you’re unsure, give the dog LOTS of space. By sitting in another room, away from the dog, you’ll allow the dog to relax —which is the ultimate goal.
Some dogs respond well when guardians give amazing treats for confident behavior in the presence of strange people (again, start further away to assure everyone’s happy and relaxed), treats go away when the strange person goes away. Some dogs (ESPECIALLY DOGS WHO ARE GUARDING THEIR HUMAN) do well if the stranger drops, from a few feet away, (no tossing overhand) amazing treats on the floor for the dog then immediately walks away. Always watch the dog for calming signals when trying to acclimate him to a new person to assure everyone stays safe, and remember, that coming at or over the dog can be scary.
Another way for a new person to meet your dog (safely) is with the dog behind a gate. However, some dogs don’t do well when confined and approached so be mindful of any tension, or staring. If your dog is relaxed, have him behind a gate and coach your friend or kiddo to walk slowly as a familiar adult human praises and treats the dog for happily accepting the novel person. You’ll prevent bites and unnecessary stress to everyone with well-orchestrated introductions. It’s important when acclimating your dog to a new home to repeat introductions over and over again to assure he’s completely comfortable with new surroundings. Treats should never be used when introducing another dog. But, once you develop a relationship with the dog, tons of verbal praise and short interactions can interrupt percolating aggression before a perilous attack occurs with dog introductions.
Remember, the way a dog looks is not an indicator of their personality. If you LOVE dogs, remember this the next time you meet a new one and you may help the adorable little (or big) dog become more confident around new people.