Aww, gibberish, excited petting, and forced hugs. These are the steps most dog lovers follow when seeing an irresistible puppy at the park or a neighbor’s dog on the street. While all these steps are backed by good intentions and overflowing love, we need to realize that it makes a dog utterly confused and puts them on high alert. A confused or defensive dog can attack you – it’s nothing personal; it’s all instinct.
In order to prevent any mishaps with a dog you do not know but want to play with or just pet, there are certain things you must understand about dog psyche.
7 Steps To Introduce Yourself To An Unfamiliar Dog
1. Remember That Dogs Are Not Humans
The first step in introducing yourself to a dog is changing your mindset. Switch over from “dogs are like humans” to “dogs are animals that work on instinct.” While social etiquette has trained us to expect niceties (like smiles and handshakes) in return for niceties, it is foolish to expect the same from dogs. And simply because their social systems work differently from humans.
That said, the fact that over-friendly strangers can overwhelm us or make us CIA-levels of suspicious is something that holds true for dogs as well. Imagine an unknown person walking right up to you and encroaching your personal space to the extent that they squish you with bear hugs. Not really the right signals for a first meeting? That’s exactly how dogs feel too.
2. Stay Calm Or At Least Show That You Are
There are two kinds of people: one who are comfortable around dogs and the other who are not. There isn’t really an in-between. We say this because your body language can give your feelings away without you even knowing it. And dogs very keenly observe body gestures.
For instance, if you are even a little scared of a dog, it will get to know. Whether or not dogs can literally smell fear is debatable, but there is no doubt that they can understand when a person is scared.
The most instinctive reaction of dog lovers is to be excitable, speak in high-pitched tones, and exhibit uncomfortable levels of familiarity. All of this needs to go away. Approach the dog and its owner with all the calm you can muster. Fake it if you have to.
3. Greet The Human First And Get Permission
“If my master likes (or tolerates) you, so may I.” That’s the way a dog’s mind works when they see a new face. Go over and tell the dog parent hello, smile, shake hands. This is when niceties are good. Seeing that its master knows you or does not feel threatened by you, a dog can get convinced that you are not a potential threat and that it does not need to protect its master. This is crucial in ensuring no canine damage is done.
Next, ask the dog parent if you may pet the dog. Different breeds have different temperaments. Also, dogs with a traumatic past or ones that are not used to meeting other people or dogs may be naturally more defensive than more socially-exposed dogs. If you get a green signal from the owner, move to the next step.
4. Don’t Make Eye Contact
This is very, very important. It is a general tendency for people who are scared of a dog to stare into its eyes to try and gauge its next move. This is not the right thing to do.
Staring may make the dog see you as an attacker, more so for dominant dogs. Being put on guard, even the slightest move you make can trigger a negative reaction. Simply put, don’t make eye contact.
5. Approach From The Side And Level Down
Never approach a dog that does not know you from the front or too quickly. This may ring alarm bells for it. Instead, walk reasonably slowly toward it (too slow may make it suspicious again) and preferably not in a direct face-front manner.
Another aspect to consider is that a dog’s viewpoint may work to your disadvantage. Imagine what you must look like standing all tall and intimidating. You may want to crouch over the dog to pet it, but that’s not a good move either. Instead, level down by getting on your knees or haunches beside the dog; not in front of it and not behind it. This will help it recognize you as a well-wisher.
6. Allow The Dog To Sniff Your Fist And Keep Your Hand In View Of It
Seeing you at its level, a dog may curiously come toward you. Wait for this to happen. If it does, it means it’s interested. Slowly offer it your loosely-closed fist without making eye contact.
If it sniffs your hand and continues to remain calm, go ahead and pet it. Ensure your hand is always in its view. This means no petting on the head, back, or toward the butt. Instead, with the back of your fist gently rub its chest, shoulders, or front of the neck. The dog may then start to lick your hand, which means it’s accepted you.
On the other hand, if the dog does not come toward you or turns away, it’s not interested. Respect its decision. The dog may also assume a wide-legged stance with a stiff tail, do not move and politely ask the owner to move the dog away. Such a stance means that the dog is still not sure about your intentions and is ready to attack after you make the first move.
7. Respect The Dog’s Decision To Call It A Day
If you make it to the petting stage, good for you! You’ve made a new friend. When the dog moves away from you at the end of it, it means that it wants the encounter to end. It may be distracted by something else or may just want to continue its walk. Again, respect its decision and move ahead.
We hope with these tips you’re next furry encounter will be paw-fect!