How Do I Introduce Myself To a Dog I Don't Know
Meeting a New Dog!
© Jim Tsitanidis K9 Trainer and Behavioural Consultant
Reprinted with Permission
I am frequently in awe of how little humans know about dogs’ behaviours even though there are millions of dogs living as pets in our homes in N. America. This handout is intended to dispel the myths that parents teach their children; myths that can lead to preventable accidents and bites that are completely outside the fault of dogs but can, nonertheless, lead them to being euthanized, especially when a young child is involved.
In order to understand the basic principle in this handout, a few words must be said about a dogs olfactory senses – their sense of smell. A dog has a sense of smell that is, on average, one million times that of a human. Scent is also the primary way in which dogs introduce themselves as well as meet other dogs and humans. Scent is the only one of the senses that puppies start out with – even before their eyes and ears open up and it is what guides them to their mother’s milk.
Humans, on the other hand, rely heavily on sight and sound – rarely on scent, when meeting and forming an opinion about another human. This difference accounts for many misconceptions that humans have about how to best meet a dog for the first time. It also accounts for many incidents of aggression or reaction on the part of dogs as humans ‘rush’ that cute dog with a high pitched voice (that exudes weak, prey-like energy), direct eye contact (which is dominant in a dog’s world) and bending down and over the dog (even more dominance in the K9 world) with an outstretched hand that
says "here, Rover, take a chunk out of this hand while I show you how dominant I am"!
By now, you are probably starting to see this approach from a dog’s point of new and realize that humans approaching in the described manner are putting themselves in danger and can cause exactly what they purport to want to avoid.
OK, so how does one do this right?
Since dogs smell humans and other species (almost literally) a mile away, and sense energy first before even using their eyes or ears, here is what one needs to do if one wants to meet a new dog – regardless of size or breed.
- NEVER extend a hand to a dog as you approach it. The notion that a dog needs to sniff your hand is not only ridiculous given that the dog knows your scent way before you have approached, but also dangerous as you can get bitten in the hand.
Note: Children need to be taught NOT to extend their hand as they approach a dog. I have personally stopped many children from approaching my own dogs this way even though I know my dogs would tolerate it. The point being that proper etiquette needs to be taught.
- Always approach and make contact with the handler and talk to him first while
ignoring the dog completely. Don’t bother asking permission to pet the dog
because, if you eventually do, it will be because you were invited to do so by the dog herself!
- Always approach the dog with your side exposed to him – never your front; it is less threatening and more likely to encourage the dog to want to meet you.
- Always use a calm, low tone voice – NEVER ‘baby-talk’ to a dog regardless how cute she is; dogs regard this type of energy as weak and are more likely to “pounce” or jump up on a human that uses it.
- Allow the dog the choice of meeting or not; I am sure you would not like to have a stranger thrust themselves upon you against your wishes and dogs are certainly no different! If a dog is indifferent to you, don’t take it personally and choose to withdraw instead of forcing yourself on her! The latter can earn you a bite and it will all be your fault.
- If you are dealing with a small/short dog, positioning yourself sideways to the dog, calmly get down on one knee WITHOUT MAKING EYE CONTACT and allow the dog to scent you. If he starts to claw/paw at you and licks you, well you are ‘in’. If he backs away in shyness or fear and goes behind the handler, this is a meeting that should not happen, it’s time for you to move on.
- Any dog that indicates she is not ready or ‘able’ to meet you should be respected and left alone; there are many more dogs that may want to meet without risking a meeting by being pushy. This type of attitude can earn you (or your child) a bite.
- If the dog is shy but still approaches you, remain calm, do NOT talk to the dog as this could cause you to make eye contact with her (she doesn’t speak our language anyhow) and allow your hand that is hanging along your side to gently brush up against her. Take notice what the dog does, if she backs away, abandon the attempt; if she comes closer, continue to increase the intensity of the touch until you think you can pet her. Always start from the body up and NEVER pet ANY dog starting from the head and moving downwards.
- End the contact in the same, unceremonious manner in which you started it. A small percentage of dogs have “issues” with the removal of affection and touch and can lunge for a digit if there is too much excitement at the end of the petting.
Remember that applying the preceding principles is not only safer but is also respectful
of the dog, his space and the rules of his world. Since we humans pride ourselves in
the use of “logic” and dogs do not have this luxury, it is only fair that we use their rules
when making contact as opposed to us insisting that they behave according to our
rules of social contact. To do the latter is both arrogant on our part and can lead to
accidents which this handout seeks to prevent.