A strangers hand coming at your face is generally a bit off putting. Don’t you think? Fortunately from a young age, I have learned that hands are safe, comforting and offer food and treats. Other dog’s may have not had the same experience. This article is for dog lovers who can’t help themselves and want to meet-n-greet every canine they see.
Some doggy science to begin with; there is a socialization period in dog’s which is from about six to sixteen weeks. This is known to be one of the most impressionable ages for dogs. A puppy who may have had less desirable experiences with human hands during this period may be predisposed to avoiding hands during his/her life. Alternatively, for those adolescent or adult dogs who received ample socialization and handling, hand adversity can still crop up following repeated negative experiences associated with human hands or arms.
Take Sammy for instance, Sammy is a small mixed breed dog who was surrendered after his owners were nipped on several occasions while taking off his harness. From what I gather, the humans who owned Sammy loved him, they just didn’t know how to stop his nipping behavior, which allegedly came out of nowhere.
Most domestic canines (like me) are constantly communicating our state of mind through body language. When these cues are not interpreted correctly, or at all, we will step up the level of intensity to make a point. “Grrrr! Did you get that? I am afraid stop petting me.” We don’t mean to get nippy but sometimes all previous attempts to communicate fear or anxiety went unnoticed or simply disregarded.
My good friend Boogie the Boston Terrier stood still for hours so that his collaborator Lili Chin could capture these illustrations for you. Curious to learn more about dog body language? Consider downloading the Dog Decoder mobile app which has over sixty cute and informative canine body postures.
In addition to interpreting canine communication correctly, there are a couple of basic approaches that you humans can be responsible for when greeting us dog.
As a general rule, dog’s do not hold sustained eye contact or directly face one another. These postures can be interpreted as a form of aggression. Before greeting a dog, consider turning your body to the side and squatting down. You’ll know if a dog wants to say hello, they will approach you. If/when a dog approaches you, hold out an outstretched hand and always pet from underneath the head first where the dog can see your arm and hand. Many dogs will tolerate physical affection on top of the head, most however prefer strangers start off with physical affection beneath the head where a dog can see your arm and hand i.e. under the chin, the chest or side of the body towards the front legs. This respectful approach is especially important for those nervous-nelly pooches that may be more sensitive.