This time of year brings lots of friends and family for a visit but regardless if you’re the one doing the visiting or being visited it’s important to know how to interact with ALL of the members of the household, not just the humans.
Unfortunately, we don’t think about how to properly greet dogs until it’s too late, generally after a bite. We are reactive where we should be proactive and don’t think about how as humans we may frighten dogs and cause them to bite. Dogs don’t generally walk around biting strangers and the one’s that do probably do it because the humans aren’t reading the dogs body language. It’s my dream that one day a dog will verbally speak to me and tell me what he’s thinking but until then we need to read their body language and understand things on their terms.
Here’s 5 things you’re probably doing wrong when greeting a dog:
- Getting on their level: While humans may think it’s friendly to meet a dog “at their level”, your body language when doing that can be invasive, offensive and challenging to a dog. Crouching into their level and gazing into their eyes can be seen as a threat and could also be treated like one.
- Looking in their eyes: While it’s considered rude for humans to not look one another in the eye, dogs feel the opposite. Making eye contact with a strange dog can be seen as a threat or a challenge and can intimidate and aggravate a dog. Think of it as the human equivalent of someone smacking you in the face and asking if you’d like to “step outside”
- Invading their space: When we want to meet a dog we often have to move closer or bend down to reach them. These actions can make a dog feel afraid and trapped and fear is the case in which a dog is most likely to bite. Instead of inviting yourself into a dogs space, invite them into yours. Take a step back, leave your hand out for sniffing and avoid eye contact. Leaving your body language loose and calm instead of hovering forward says “Hi, I’d love to meet you whenever you’re ready” instead of a stranger rushing in trying to manhandle you.
- Insisting dogs love you: Loving dogs & them loving you are two entirely different things and unfortunately, you may not be as well loved by dogs as you think. Insisting yourself upon a dog will guarantee they will feel threatened by you. If an owner mentions their dog is fearful of strangers don’t insist yourself on that dog saying “oh dogs love me” because THAT dog might not! Perhaps that dog will love you, eventually, but most dogs that are nervous of strangers don’t respond well to people invading their space abruptly. You don’t want to undo any progress that dog may have made with other humans. After all, you aren’t the only human in the universe that dog is going to have to interact with.
- Hugging and kissing: In some cultures, hugging & kissing are the social norms, some cultures even greet one another with a kiss on each cheek. This just isn’t so in the canine world. Think about what your body language is saying when you’re leaning in to hug or kiss a dog. You’re doing EVERYTHING wrong! You’re invading their space, making eye contact, making them feel trapped…you’re just begging to be bit. You’re so busy doing everything wrong that you’re missing all the signals the dog is sending that they’re uncomfortable…retreating into a corner trying to get away from you, tucking their tail because they’re afraid, lowering their eyes, lowering their ears…all these things are the dogs way of telling you they are uncomfortable but we’re too busy doing all the talking to LISTEN to what the dog is saying.
Next time you go to greet a dog, think of it from their perspective and take it low and slow.