5 Tips for Meeting a New Dog
As a trainer, I routinely work with dogs that have bitten. These dogs are often described as “shy,” or “aloof” by their owners. Time and again, owners are amazed when their dogs warm up to me much more quickly than they do with other strangers. I don’t have magical powers of communication, I simply know how to meet dogs in a way that builds their trust in me. By following these basic rules, you can have dogs thinking you’re pretty cool, too!
RULE #1 – STAND STILL AND LET DOGS APPROACH YOU
Always let the dog approach you, no matter how friendly it looks. Why? Because this allows the dog to interact with you on his terms, once he has determined you are safe.
RULE #2 – RESPECT HIS SPACE
We love dogs so much that we have a tendency to want to get really close when we’re petting…as close as possible. But imagine meeting a new person and they immediately bent over the top of you, put their hand on your head and brought their face right up to yours. What would you do?
DON’T BEND OVER THE DOG. It is much better to kneel down and turn your body slightly sideways to a dog. You would be amazed at how many dogs turn to mush when you offer them this polite greeting.
KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF. I know that somewhere along the line the advice was given to present your hand to a dog so they can sniff it. For shy or fearful dogs, that outstretched hand can look like you are reaching for them, causing them to distrust you. Considering dogs have 250 million scent receptors compared to our 5 million, they can smell you just fine with your hand at your side.
NO REACHING OVER THE HEAD. Reaching over their head is intimidating. Dogs much prefer when pets come from underneath, such as a soft rub under the chin or on their cheek.
GET OUTTA MY FACE! What is it that makes us think that dogs love having a stranger get really close to their face? Do we like it? No! A simple rhyme for children holds just as true for adults: Two feet of space can save your face.
Letting the dog decide how and when to approach you can make all the difference.
RULE #3 – IT’S OKAY IF HE DOESN’T LIKE YOU
Our fragile human egos just can’t seem to take it when man’s best friend doesn’t immediately fall in love with us. The truth is, the more you pursue a shy dog, the more it convinces them that you are scary…and quite rude. Back off, discontinue eye contact and give him a chance to get to know you on his terms.
If he doesn’t come around, that’s okay. By giving him his space, you’ve just taught him that not all humans are scary and rude, which benefits him much more in the long run.
RULE #4 – SNIFFING IS NOT AN INVITATION TO PET
Sniffing is the dog’s way of getting more information about you. Let the dog sniff you and then see where he goes from there. Does he sniff you and then back away or does he sniff you and then start with the whole body wiggle?
Dogs who really love to be pet don’t keep it a secret. They come in very close, lean into you. Their eyes look “soft” and even squinty, and you may just see that sweet little grin.
RULE #5 – TEST THE WATERS
When you do pet the dog, pet him once or twice (under the chin, not on top of the head), then stop and see what happens. If he really enjoyed what you just did, he will move closer or give some other indication that your affections are welcome. If he moves away and doesn’t return, he’s had enough.
COMMON SENSE GUIDELINES
When encountering an unfamiliar dog, follow these rules to avoid common causes of bites:
- Don’t pet dogs that are tied, chained, in kennels or behind fences.
- Don’t pet dogs when the owner is not present.
- Don’t try to hug or kiss an unfamiliar dog.
- Don’t pet a dog that is eating or in possession of a bone or toy.
TIPS FOR OWNERS OF SHY/FEARFUL DOGS
If you are the owner of a dog who is shy or just a little reserved with strangers, it is up to you to protect him from over-zealous dog lovers. Don’t be afraid to stop people from accosting your dog. The more negative interactions your dog has with people, the closer you get to having a real behavior problem on your hands.
And if they think you are rude for not letting them pet your dog, who cares? You and your dog are just fine without them.