The Right Way to Greet a Dog
Dogs are naturally curious when someone new comes to visit. Some dogs will react positively to a stranger with a friendly approach, but may feel threatened as soon as the person reaches down to try and pet them. There are rules to keep in mind when greeting a dog, and knowing what they are can be the difference between a friendly encounter or one that becomes tense. Meeting new people can be exciting for some dogs, while others take longer to warm up to someone. Understanding the “Body Language of Dogs” can make a meeting smoother and safer when you know how to interpret what a dog is saying. You can then take that information and use it in your favor.
A dog can appear friendly, until you get too close; then he may feel intimidated. He may back off, cower or give you a low warning growl. It's just like when a person stands too close while talking to you and it gives you an uncomfortable feeling. The person may not realize their close proximity creates tension if they don't notice your body language. When greeting a dog, regardless of whether he knows you or not, ignore him when you first walk into someone's home. No eye contact, don't talk to him and don't try to pet him. From the dog's point of view it's not being rude, it's being polite. He's more likely to stay calm when you don't acknowledge him until the human greetings are done.
If the dog jumps up on you, turn your side or back to him each time he jumps up. If he continues, walk away from him without looking at or speaking to him. Avoid pushing him down with your hands because dogs use their front paws in play and when you push him away using your hands, he thinks you're trying to play with him. Fold your arms or put your hands in your pocket if the dog tries to get your attention by nudging your hand. Pet a dog only when he's calm and has all four feet on the ground.
Sudden moves can startle a dog. If you try to suddenly pet a dog from above with your hand moving down towards his head or if you move too quickly towards him, a timid dog can feel threatened and may snap or growl. Watch the dog's body language which will tell you if you need to back off and leave him alone. A shy dog is more likely to approach you if you aren't paying him attention. A handful of CANIDAE TidNips™ treats can help make friends after the initial greetings; just be sure to ask his owner first.
Sit down on the couch or in a chair, or kneel down on the floor making sure to avoid eye contact with the dog. Hold some treats in your hand and offer them to the dog. If he won't take the treat from your hand, put it on the floor. Give him space while he gets to know you. His body language will tell you when he's ready for you to pet him. A dog can become excited just because someone came to visit, even when they know who the visitor is. When you consistently greet a dog the right way, it teaches him to be polite and helps to keep him calm.
Anytime you greet a dog, ask for permission before petting him. The owner knows their dog best and some dogs would rather you left them alone. If a dog looks tense or scared, he probably is. Don't try to pet a dog who is giving you an intense stare, especially if he's standing stiff and motionless, looking at you out of the corner of his eye or licking his lips. This is a sign he's agitated. Give him space and allow him to greet you on his terms when he's ready.
When greeting a dog, what you want to see in his body language is his tail wagging or hanging down in a relaxed manner. This is a friendly dog. Never force yourself on a dog. Not all dogs like being hugged, especially from someone they don't know. Not all dogs like being petted on the head either. It's best to pet him with your hand coming up to meet his head rather than coming down. Understanding how to greet a dog can make life easier for you and the dog.
Photo by Ben Radlinski
Read more articles by Linda Cole