By Willie Mays
When meeting new people, we know instinctively how to present ourselves in such a way that we don’t pose a threat or communicate an intention of wrongdoing. The same principles apply when greeting dogs.
There is a certain way we need to conduct ourselves in front of the dog so that it can feel comfortable around us. Dogs like to be sure about the intentions of the person who’ll be playing with them.
Below are five tips that can always help you in getting along with new dogs. These are easy-to-follow tips and don’t require much on your part.
Always get the permission of the owner of the dog before going near it
First and foremost, you should greet the owner and ask if it would be alright for you to play with the dog. It is good etiquette and ensures that you won’t cause problems for anyone. The owner knows the dog the best. The dog may not be comfortable around strangers and may get aggressive or anxious, which may be a cause for concern for everyone.
A dog is very well aware of things that go on around it and if it senses that its owner is uncomfortable with your presence, it is uncomfortable as well. It is very similar to how human bonding takes place. If someone who is close to you is friendly with someone and you meet them, there is a good chance that you will be friends with them as well. But if there is some bad blood between that person and your friend, you will want that person to steer clear of you.
Behave nicely with their owners, get their permission and it will increase your chances of a positive interaction with their dogs. And if the owners allow you to play with their dogs, they can help you with getting familiar with the dogs in a shorter period of time. They know what makes their dogs happy and piques their interest better than anyone. They can also help you with understanding the body language of their dogs which can indicate how the interaction is going.
Allow the dog to make the first move
It is often said that the best way to get familiar with a dog is by not doing anything. You don’t need to make any move at the start to get acquainted with a dog. Everyone loves their privacy and personal space and that is the case with a dog as well. It will be very alert to your presence and will be carefully monitoring your every movement. You must learn to present yourself in such a manner that you don’t show anxiety. Keep a cool demeanor and don’t make your body stiff. Let your body go loose. The dog will sniff you since it gets a great deal of information this way. It is important to understand that you are a complete stranger to it and the dog will take its time to decide if you are a person that can be trusted and with whom it’s ok to play. It is better to let it decide if you are the right person with whom to play rather than you deciding that for yourself. There may be instances in which the dog does not seem comfortable with your presence and you must respect the dog’s decision. Some dogs may not be too comfortable with the presence of a stranger and may get aggressive for no reason at all. It is better to leave them in peace.
How to behave in front of a dog
It has already been mentioned that it always helps your case if you keep a composed body around the dog and are cool and relaxed. A dog has the ability to sense if someone is fearful. This makes it a bit more defensive and agitated as well. But there is more to how you present yourself. Some of the most common things that people tend to neglect while approaching a dog which are very important to the dog are:
Do not make any sudden, unnecessary movements
Making a sudden movement in front of anyone will startle them, let alone a dog. You don’t want to give it any reason to be afraid of you. That’s why you should avoid doing anything that may raise a suspicion about your intentions.
Do not take a head-on approach
It may be okay among humans to approach each other from the front, but it certainly is not a good way to approach a dog. It will always help if you approach the dog from the side. This allows you to give the impression of a person who is a lesser threat than a person who may be approaching from the front. It also helps you in seeing the body movements of the dog which can tell you how the dog is reacting.
Avoid eye contact
We are told from the very beginning of our lives that we should always look into the eyes of the person with whom we are talking or interacting but the equation changes when it comes to interacting with a dog. Direct eye contact may convey a message that you are challenging it or questioning its dominance, which can lead to an unpleasant situation.
Always squat down to the dog– do not bend over
It is obvious that you are taller than the dog and it is only natural that you bend down to pat it or to touch it. But that may not go over well with the dog because it prefers that the person playing with it squat down to its height rather than to bend over it. No one likes to have a towering presence over them, why would a dog? Keep in mind that you have to make the dog feel that you are its friend, not someone who is there to boss it around.
Offer the dog your fist when you feel it is starting to feel comfortable around you
This is again a contradiction from what we do among ourselves. You should offer your fist to the dog when you feel that the dog doesn’t mind your presence. The dog prefers the offering of a fist because it looks smaller when compared to the open hand.
Do not touch the head or face; opt for the chest or the shoulders
How would you feel if a person whom you have just met minutes ago start touching your face and patting your head? Extremely angry. You would feel like getting away from that person as fast as you can. This is what dogs feel as well. Nobody likes to be touched on the face or patted on the head. If you want to show your love to the dog, you can opt for rubbing its chest, neck or shoulders.
Allow the dog to decide how close it wants you to be near it
It is not advisable to go too near the dog if the dog is avoiding coming close to you. Since this is the very first meeting, the dog will be a little bit suspicious of you however nice you are. That’s why you should not take it as a negative sign. Instead, respect whatever space the dog has given you and try to enjoy within that area only. Maybe the next time you meet it, you can get closer to it. You should always take no for a positive answer in these situations.
Learn doggo body language and what it means for you
Dogs cannot speak the language we speak nor can they write as we do. But the best way to know what a dog is trying to say is to notice its body movements. Each body movement is a signal and it is trying to convey some message to you. That’s why it is important for you to get permission from the owner before approaching the dog because they can tell you about the various habits of the dog as well as how it behaves when it likes or dislikes something. Some of the common body signals that are used by most dogs are:
A dog is relaxed when its ears are up and its tail is down. A relaxed dog will have an open mouth with its tongue slightly exposed. Such a dog will usually have its head in a higher position. You can approach these dogs since they don’t mind a person or two around them as long as the stranger doesn’t present any imminent danger.
When you are approaching the dog and it has detected your presence, you may see the dog in an alert position. The common body signals that a dog will display while alert is that it will have a tail in a horizontal position moving from side to side, the ears will be twitching so as to detect any trace of sound, it’ll be standing on its toes leaning forward and its mouth will be closed. It usually exhibits this behavior when someone enters its space and it is trying to figure out if it is okay to let the person in or if there is danger.
This is the posture of which you should be most cautious. In this situation you should back out before the dog attacks. An aggressive dog usually will have its tail stiff and raised, the hackles on the body will be raised, the nose will be wrinkled and the lips will be curled in such a manner that the teeth will be clearly visible along with the gums. It will be leaning forward so that it is ready to attack if you try to do anything that may seem out of place.
A dog that is fearful should be left alone unless you are an animal expert because your presence as a stranger may outweigh the good that you are trying to accomplish. This dog will have its tail tucked between its legs with no visible movement while the whole body will be lowered. The hackles on the body will be raised and the ears will be in a backward position with the pupils dilated, nose wrinkled, lips curled and teeth visible. Remember that a dog might be fearful, but it is still capable of showing aggressive behavior and may attack if you try to do something that doesn’t sit well with it. It is very aptly said that a tiger that is cornered should be feared the most.
Like humans, dogs can be stressed as well and as mentioned above, should not be approached until unless you are an expert. A dog can be identified as being under stress if it has its tail down, body lowered, ears back, pupils dilated and is panting rapidly along with sweating from the pads. You should not approach dogs exhibiting these traits, but you can help them by calling an animal shelter which can take care of them.
A dog in a playful mood is a sight to behold because it’ll be radiating energy. You can recognize a dog in a playful mood by noticing that its tail and ears are up, pupils are dilated, and it has exposed its tongue by opening its mouth in excitement. It will have a body position that will help it to rocket forward. This posture is usually accompanied by excited barking and some pseudo-attacks as well in invitation to play.
These are some of the tips you can use to understand a dog you have never met before. These things should be kept in mind so that you can help others who might not understand if their presence is welcomed by a dog or not. A true dog lover will understand that a dog, like many humans, may be going through some tough times and may not like any strangers’ presence at that time. One should understand that dogs also have a personal space which should be respected, even if that means that we have to put aside our own desires for a while.
Willie Mays is a housewife, good mother, pet lover and a blogger. Auxier is her dog and Mimo is her cat. She loves them very much. She has an aim to help other pet owners and recently wrote about apoquel alternatives in her blog.