Whenever I see a dog in any place I always get the tendency to walk up to them and cuddle and squeeze them – they are just so cute and I have so much love for dogs that it takes a lot to control myself. But I do control myself. I think most of us reading this article are major dog lovers and would love to cuddle them all, but sometimes we need to be reminded of why cuddling is not really the appropriate way to show love to our pooches. So here you go, an article about approaching dogs,both the ones you know and you don’t know.
We are still primates
Although we have evolved majorly and are at the top of the food chain,we are still very much primates and show a lot of primate behavior. Whenever we greet each other we walk up looking straight in each other’s eyes, we might even smile widely with our teeth bare and if we know the person we might even give them a big warm hug or a kiss. We like chest to chest contact. We do it from young, and have a very hard time controlling ourselves not to. It’s simply our (but also Chimps and Bonobo’s) way to connect with each other, show love and release stress.
Dogs don’t really like cuddles.
For dogs, this is not really the type of contact they would prefer. Whenever two dogs meet they would often actually approach from the side instead of straight forward, they wouldn’t really look into each other’s eyes but rather avoid straight eye contact and baring teeth would be considered extremely rude. Dogs also do not hug – a paw on the back of the other dog is often a display of dominance unless the dogs know each other very well already and social standards have become less important.
Look for stress signals
Of course we still really want to hug our dogs, even if they might not like it. Some dogs might actually tolerate it, or ask for it, and that is awesome! But just keep in the back of your head that most dogs actually do not like hugs and they make them feel more uncomfortable than that it is soothing. Make sure to keep a look out for any stress signals from the dog (we’ll talk about those in a later article – but think of lip licking, yawning, showing the whites of their eyes), do not hug dogs you do not know and if your dog tolerates hugs but doesn’t really like them make sure to keep hugs to a minimum.
Olive in rush hour – an example
So – now we have gotten the hugging thing out of the way, lets talk about appropriate approaches. Olive and I travel by train in rush hour nearly every day, and almost daily she gets someone’s hand shoved in her face, or someone bowing over her to pet her on top of her head. Olive is very sensitive and very clear in her body language, as in, she is probably the easiest dog to read and learn body language from, and although I try to block this type of engagement sometimes someone gets past my body blocks and tries it anyway. Often I get the reaction “Oh – why is she so scared? Is she abused?” but as many of you might know, I actually have Olive since she is tiny and she’s just a very sensitive dog.
Funny thing is that actually a lot of dogs respond evasive whenever a stranger reaches straight for their heads or gets right up in their faces. It’s not weird for them to do that either, think about it, would you like someone to get right up to your face if you don’t know them at all? I sure wouldn’t. This, in combination with missing major stress signals, can cause for some really tricky situations.
But how do you approach a dog?
Let’s start at the start. First, Ask the owner! Some owners might not actually want their dogs to be petted. They might be in training, scared, aggressive, overexcited, recovering from surgery, there’s many reasons someone might not want their dog petted and that is totally okay. If the owner says it’s okay, make sure to approach the dog from the side instead of head on. Do not look the dog in the eyes or stick out your hand to let them snif, instead don’t go all the way up and see if the dog comes up to you. If the dog doesn’t come up to you, don’t force it and just simply walk away. The dog does not want to be petted. If the dog does come up to you do not bend down or bend over the dog, just stay standing or squat all the way through your legs. Don’t reach overhead but opt to pet the chest area instead, many dogs prefer this over a head rub.
Remember: Your dog, your rules
Do you have a dog that doesn’t like to be petted or you don’t want him or her to be petted? I know the struggle. People often start making kissing noises or reach for their heads straight away. Remember it is your dog, you have all the right to say what you do or do not want to happen. It is also your job to protect your dog if he’s feeling insecure or scared. On the other hand, it’s quite a big step to start blocking people and I still find it hard to tell people no. So here some tips!
Usually if someone walks up to Olive I either step in between her and the person, or I block their hand if they come as far as reaching already. Another thing that helps pretty well is to hold some treats or a nice toy in your hand and the moment someone tries to walk up, just toss it to them and shout “here catch!”, they will most likely be too busy trying to catch the treat or toy, and that gives you the time to give them instructions on how to interact with your dog. I got this trick from “On the other end of the leash”, which is an amazing book by the way.
The more often you block people the more confident you will get, but also the more skills you will develop in “how to politely block a person from touching your dog”.
For some more info have a look at these great articles: