Here are three things everyone NEEDS to know about introducing yourself to a dog.
The other day, Parker, the Great Pyrenees, came to Kamp K-9 while his owners are out of town. Parker is a little more nervous and skittish around new things, sounds, people, etc. Dogs like Parker need to have their self-esteem as a dog empowered and it usually takes a little longer with them than even an aggressive dog. While Parker and I were walking down the street, we came across some high school girls walking in the neighborhood, and all of them wanted to see and pet him. While he is a beautiful dog, a respectful introduction from humans is always necessary, no matter the dog/breed/temperament.
One girl asked if it was okay to pet him. I told her it was, but to simply stand straight with her arms by her side and let him sniff her first. Instead, she did the same thing that all uneducated dog lovers do: she bent way over and stuck her hand in his face. I told her 2 more times to stop before her friends finally told her, “He said just stand there and let the dog sniff you!” She finally straightened up, Parker sniffed her, and after a few seconds he ignored the rest of the contact.
This girl – and many well-intentioned humans – was under the misconception that if you want to meet a dog, you have to present your hand for them to smell. Because of a dogs’ olfactory capabilities they can smell you from quite a distance, so the close sniffing becomes an effort to identify scent with energy. They then decide whether you are a threat to them, or whether or not they like your energy, and then they walk away. A dog that walks away and turns their back on you has given you the message, “I don’t feel threatened by you.”
Another misconception is that we go TO the dog, whereas in the pack world dogs come to us to sniff because that is what a respectful follower does. Pack leaders do not go to followers and say, “Let me give you affection and excitement, you wonderful subordinate.” That behavior, in fact, shows the dog how little you understand their interaction with leaders and just what your status is as a leader (um, you’re NOT!)
Lastly, think of what the dog sees from their perspective. Look at the accompanying photo. Here is Parker having a hand stuck in his face and he looks neither happy nor comfortable. Then look at Lisa. SHE’S happy to see the dog but what does the dog see? Fingers (also known as “something to bite”) and excitement, which some dogs will see as too much/too soon and will disagree with that energy usually with a growl or a snap. If Parker were a different/more aggressive dog, this look will be a prelude to a bite and is a warning to the offender (which most dog lovers miss). Petting the dog under the chin after he/she has made their decision about you is truly more respectful in their eyes, and can mitigate the damage of a bite should you misread the dog.
Most dogs are happy-go-lucky and therefore this may not necessarily be an issue. Nevertheless, you can establish yourself as a pack leader by showing respect in the eyes of even the more distrustful dog by understanding and learning how to introduce yourself, and you can be around many types of personalities of dogs and stay safer and in control. Regardless, if you want to establish yourself as a pack leader, it starts from the first contact.
Until the next time, stay Calm, Assertive, and Respectful! And by all means teach others how to respectfully meet dogs!