Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sarah Kalnajs Seminar: How to Greet a Dog

Megan's doing it right: She's down on Maisy's level, at an angle, avoiding direct eye contact, 
letting Maisy approach her (instead of invading Maisy's space), and petting the chest and shoulders (as opposed to the top of her head). Is it any wonder that Maisy loves Megan?

Today's post is on the proper way to greet a dog. I think most the vast majority of my readers are quite dog-savvy, but even so, it's easy skip one or more of these guidelines... especially with our own dogs, who we know well, and who we assume will always put up with our primate selves. The truth is, many, many people are guilty of greeting dogs in ways that make them uncomfortable, myself included, so today I want to share Sarah's suggestions for proper dog-human greetings.

Before approaching any dog, assess his body language. It doesn't matter how well you know the dog. He may be your dog of 10 years, or he maybe a random dog you meet on the street. Either way, you should always assess the dog's body language. Friendly dogs can have bad days, and scaredy-pups can be interested in playing with you. But you'll never know if you aren't paying attention to what the dog is saying.

If he says you can come closer, approach at an angle by arcing gently. This is polite, nonconfrontational, and shows that you want to be friends. Being direct and straight-on is bad manners at best, and aggressive at worst, so start things off right by walking in a slight curve. (Incidentally, if your dog is meeting another on leash, get them off on the right foot by moving towards the other dog in that half-moon shape.)

Stop a few feet from the dog, and assess the dog's body language again. Things can change quickly, and the dog that you thought was okay with you (or the dog that thought he would be with you), may have changed his mind. So stop and check, and be willing to forgo that meeting if that's what the dog is telling you.

If he still says he's okay with the idea of meeting you, crouch down to the dog's level and orient your body at an angle. Please note that you should not close the gap- you'll be two to three feet away from the dog at this point. Just as it is rude to invade another person's space bubble, it's rude to invade a dog's. Allow him to close that space if he wants to.

Your job is to be polite and inviting, and you're going to do this by avoiding direct eye contact, leaning over the top of him, or getting in his face. Sarah also said you shouldn't smile directly towards the dog, as he may incorrectly interpret this as an offensive tooth display. She also stressed that it's rude to invade the dog's space by thrusting your hand or fist directly into his face. This is often counter to what we're taught- after all, how many times have you seen someone do this, or been told to let a dog smell your hand? True, the dog will want to smell you (it's their strongest sense, and as such, the best way for them to get to know you), but let him do that in away that doesn't get in his space.

The dog should be the one to make contact, so let him decide if he wants to be touched or not. Do not assume that it is your right to pet him, even if he does venture near you. A shy dog might be willing to come close, but isn't acutally interested in being physical. If he wants to be touched, he'll make it obvious; dogs that are rubbing against you, pushing his face near you, leaning on you, or otherwise seeking out your loving are all fair game.

Even if the dog says you may touch him, you still need to be careful to do this in a way that he appreciates. To that end, stroke from under, not over. Dogs generally do not like having their heads touched (and let's face it, you'd probably be weirded out if someone taller than you patted you roughly on the head, too). Try petting his chest or shoulders instead. Some dogs are okay with their chins and backs, too, but you should be continually assessing the dog's body language as you're interacting with him.

Finally, even if he wants to meet you, don't force him to stay longer than he's comfortable with. If he wants to end the interaction, let him. He'll appreciate that courtesy. 

So, dear readers, what do you think? Do you ever find yourself bending the rules just a bit? Which one is hardest for you to follow, and why? Would you add anything to these suggestions? Would you remove something? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Original_Wacky said...

With my own dogs, I break the rules like mad. For example, looming over them and approaching them head on. But then, they've also been conditioned to see those things as a sign of happyplayfuntimes, so to them it's all a game. I expect our dogs to let me do most anything I want to them, but I still do my best to respect their limits as much as possible. Luckily I don't usually wear my teeth around the house, so toothy grins aren't an issue (haha), plus our dogs are the smiley type anyway, so they seem to like smiles.

With strange dogs, I tend to kneel down at an angle as described, and let the dog come to me, so it's nice to know I'm doing that right. I've found that chin scratching is generally easier tolerated than over the head petting, but regardless I try to let the dog tell me what they want. If I'm going to extend any part of my body out, it's generally my whole forearm and I just hold it a little bit away from my body and let them move in.

Great post, and definitely something people should really think about when it comes to dogs. Even more importantly, it would be nice if everybody taught their kids about these 'rules' as well.

Crystal Thompson said...

Oh, gosh- I break the rules with my own dog, too! In my defense, I try to limit the hugging and head touching as much as possible, and stop when she seems too uncomfortable! ;)

I also have difficulty with certain friend dogs- especially my greyhound friend. His head is just RIGHT THERE you know?

Still, in my line of work I meet a lot of strange dogs (I'm a social worker and do home visits a couple times a week). Although I don't kneel down, I do ignore the dogs, stand sideways, etc, and only touch them if it's OBVIOUS they want it. I've had a few people tell me that their dogs never warm up to strangers, so I always think is kind of cool when the interact with me.

Ninso said...

I love this post! More people (even dog people) need to read this! Just because it has fur doesn't mean it wants to be petted!

I am (now) pretty good about greeting strange dogs. I don't assume they want to say hello to me and I wait for the dog to make the first move. It has to be pretty obvious that they want to be touched before I will pet them.

With my own dogs, all bets are off, but I think they are ok with it. My dogs love to have their heads touched (by me) in certain ways. They love to have their ears and the sides of their face rubbed, and oddly, all three of them LOVE it when I rub their "stop" right between their eyes with one finger. Elo also loves to be held and cuddled and picked up and hugged (Lok and Jun not so much).

Sophie said...

'Do not assume that it is your right to pet him, even if he does venture near you. A shy dog might be willing to come close, but isn't acutally interested in being physical.'

I wish more people knew that! Quite often, Lola will decide she likes someone (or doesn't outright hate them) and will move closer--but she doesn't want to be touched. She likes everything to happen On Her Terms, though I can (and admittedly sometimes do) be as rude as I please with her and Jess. If they seem really uncomfortable obviously I stop, but I am guilty of scooping both up and hugging for a few seconds!

Crystal Thompson said...

Yes, I often find myself apologizing to Maisy for being such a darn primate. She's just so cute that I can't keep my hands off her, though! She's so huggable and kissable and lovable!!