Many of our clients are a little pensive when people come up and want to pet their dog. Sometimes their dog is fine with people petting him and other times he gets a little bothered and sometimes slightly aggressive.  What could be going on?

Petting a dog is more than just petting. It communicated a great deal to the dog you may not intend.

Humans are just stupid and believe that all dogs want to be petted by anyone at anytime. We think that we can just go right over, even from behind, lean over them, and start petting.  The dog never issued an invitation.  

When we actively approach a strange dog or the dog owner pulls his dog to a strange person, the dog is has never told us that he is OK with the entire action.  He may feel that he has been put in an unsafe situation and will need to enact his fight or flight “rules of engagement”.  

Since he is on a leash and rather tightly tethered, the “fight scenario” of the two options jumps to the top of the dog’s to-do list.  

Robin and I tell my clients that it is critical that they always allow their dog to decide if he wants to approach someone to be petted.  If, for any reason, he feels unsafe or unsure about that individual, he will not approach them.  We are letting him tell us that he would rather not be petted at the moment. If you push your dog into the situation where he feels unsafe, the “fight” side of his fight or flight instinct might kick in and he might nip the person who wants to pet him.  And it will be completely your fault for having your dog nip a stranger.  He told you, quite clearly, to “not go there”.

Now, let us say your dog walks up to the person who wants to pet him.  How should that person proceed in order to make your dog feel safe and comfortable in that situation? Here are some ideas that have allowed us to count to ten with our fingers all these years:

  • Do not lean over a dog in order to pet them.  The dog could interpret your height and approaching movement as an aggressive act.
  • Never move your hand directly towards the dog’s face.  Direct movements can always be interpreted as an initial act of aggression.  Think about it. The dog sees is a big hand coming directly towards him. If he had ever been hit in the past, this is probably the first and last thing he saw before that very bad and abusive memory.  
  • Allow the dog to sniff you.  Stay still with your hands at your sides.  If the dog continues to sniff and appears calm, this is a good sign.  You can continue.
  • Lower yourself down slowly, never moving or bending towards the dog.  Very, very slowly start to move the back of your hand toward the dog.  Move your hand to his chest, below his head.  This will allow you to observe the dog for any change in temperament and will allow him to still read your body language.
  • Pet him calmly on his chest and then slowly move your hand up and around his neck to the back lower part of his head.  Tell him he is a good dog in a quiet, high tone.
  • Slowly and calmly stroke him from the back of his head to the middle part of his back.  This emulates the grooming that all dogs do on each other.  This calms them down even more.
  • When you are done, stand up by moving away from the dog.  

Robin and I are here to help if you need any assistance in greeting dogs yourself or you need help in allowing your dog greet other people.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over fifteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.