Robin and I were at a new Home Dog Training session in Dacula last week working with an eighteen-month-old Irish Water Spaniel named Claire.   Claire always wanted to be in charge, didn’t like to listen, loved to steal food from the table, and always pulled on the leash.  Bottom line, Claire thought that she was the boss of my client.  It didn’t take too long to let Claire know that she was not the boss and to train my client and what she had to do to maintain leadership and control.

Safely approach a dog you meet on the street

Many people would think that this change of events would make Claire sad.  In reality, the opposite is the case. She was now happy that she was part of a strong family group with a leader that will keep her safe, happy, and well. As we were finishing up, my client said that she had one more question.  It wasn’t about Claire specifically, but about dogs when she was out and about.  She loves dogs and always wants to meet every dog she sees in the neighborhood, at the market, at Home Depot, etc.  She knows that there are “right and wrong ways” to meet a dog.  What did I suggest?

We love dogs and always want to engage with them and have them love us too. So, when we see a dog in the street, our first instinct is to go right up and “introduce ourselves” to them.  This may work for humans interacting with humans.  Let’s see what could happen if the other “human” is a dog…

You are walking down the street and you see the cutest dog and you really want to see him and pet him. You walk right up to him, bend over and pet him on the head. WRONG! Never, never do that! You may not know it, but the cute doggie that you want to pet might believe that you are being aggressive. You have put him in a “fight or flight” mode. Since he is on a leash, the “flight option” is off the table. You will probably be bitten!

With that said, let’s tell you what you should do.

  • NEVER WALK RIGHT UP TO A STRANGE DOG. Like us, dogs are the sum of their experiences.  If they have been abused by strangers in the past, your direct and uninvited approach could put them in a fearful aggressive stance.  This could cause them to respond with a nip or bite.
  • ALWAYS ASK IF YOU CAN INTERACT WITH A DOG.  The dog’s owner is the best “human” to determine if their dog is ready for a “meet and greet”.  Calmly stand about six to ten feet away and politely ask if you can pet the owner’s dog.  If the owner says no, don’t try to argue or negotiate.  If you try to approach after the owner’s refusal, the owner’s pensive body language will trigger his dog that something is wrong. This could lead to a nip or bite.
  • ALLOW THE DOG TO APPROACH YOU. Even if everything looks great and the owner said it was fine to meet his dog, nobody has asked the dog.  Have the owner slowly approach you with his dog on the leash.  If the dog feels pensive or afraid, his body language will instantly show that.  His ears will be down, his tail will be tucked, you may see his mouth tightly closed with the slight visibility of teeth. He may be pulling away on the leash, quietly growling, or excitedly jumping.  All these things are telling you that the dog “does not want to accept visitors today”.  If that is the case, this meet and greet is not a good idea.
  • BE ASSURED BUT NOT FORCEFUL. Dogs are fine if you show a dominant posture.  This simply means that you are confident, firm, and consistent.  They respect these qualities.  It is the same posture that our teachers portrayed to us.  When the dog comes up to you, stand tall and calm. Keep your hands by your side and do not reach out or bend over the dog.  This allows the dog to “size you up” when he is “up close” and allows you to see if there is any signs of changes in the dog’s demeanor.
  • EYESIGHT IS IMPORTANT.  It is imperative that you and the dog maintain eye sight.  This is an important aspect of your open communication. Never move your arm or hand in front of the dog’s face.  This not only blocks the dog’s view of you, it also can be interpreted as an aggressive act.
  • DON’T MOVE OVER THE DOG.  Body language is very important  in a dog’s communication hierarchy.  If you are right next to a dog and suddenly move over him, that is an overt act of dominance.  Since the dog doesn’t know you, he may interpret that dominant act as aggression instead of “your lack of knowledge”.  You normally bend over a dog when you are about to pet them. You can’t do this. Stay in front of the dog, keep your back straight, and use your knees to slowly lower yourself so that you are in a position to pet him. This may take a little work and feel uncomfortable, but it is very important in communicating to the dog that you still mean him no harm.
  • GIVE THE DOG THE BACK OF YOUR HAND. You are now ready to pet the dog. Do not stick your hand out with your palm exposed to his face. If the dog had been abused in the past, this is the last thing he saw before he was hit. Slowly move your hand towards the dog’s chest (below his face) with the back of your hand exposed to his sight. This will allow continued eye contact, allow you not be be “over him”, and introduce your hand in a safe and nurturing manner.
  • SLOWLY PET BY RUBBING. Many people pet a dog like they pet a small boy on the head.  It is really a hit and not a pet.  Once you have moved your hand to the dog’s belly, rub his fur gently. This will emulate a grooming action that dogs use between each other to show a sign or respect  and safety.
  • CONTINUE PETTING.  Once the dog continues to show a calm demeanor with your petting of his chest, you can slowly move your hand to his neck and back.  Never move your hand in a direction that will block his vision of you.
  • TALKING.  It is fine to verbalize with the dog while you are petting and even approaching.  Speak in a calm and quiet voice.  Use terms like “Good Doggie” and “Happy Puppy”;.  Chances are the dog has heard those phrases before at times when he felt safe and secure.
  • TIME TO GO. When you are done petting the dog, slowly stand up by backing away from the dog.  Do not bend forward and over the dog as you get up.  I know that this is the natural way that many of us stand up, but it does not send the appropriate signal to the dog. Keep your back straight and move away as you stand. You might need to ask the dog owner to help you and give you a hand.
  • PARTING WAYS.  Allow the dog and dog owner to leave the area first.  This allows the dog owner to regain his dog’s complete focus and take charge as their walk continues.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but after a few “meet and greets”, it will become second nature for you.  Remember that doing these things will allow you to meet those wonderful dogs when the time is right.  It keeps you and them happy, safe, and bite-free!

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.