Meeting Dogs and Puppies for the First Time
When meeting dogs for the first time it is very important to watch the dog’s body language. The best thing to do when meeting dogs or puppies for the first time? It’s actually simple; ignore them, take time to talk with the owner and ask permission.
Here are some examples of how you shouldn’t conduct yourself when meeting dogs for the first time:
-Immediately dropping to the dog’s eye level and talking to them can be intimidating and imposing on the dog’s personal space. This is also rude to the owner who might have a dog that is inappropriate when meeting people and this can cause setbacks in their training.
-Children (particularly toddlers) can be very scary to dogs and especially puppies. They move awkwardly, are already at eye level and don’t notice the warning signs the dog is sending them which can lead to a bite.
-Now raise your hand if you have ever held your fist out for the dog to “smell you”. Yep, mine’s up too. This one has been passed down for generations and continues today, but is a very intimidating way of meeting dogs for the first time.
All of the above-mentioned ways that people try meeting dogs for the first time are very daunting, even more so for puppies. A puppy can develop fear or aggression in order to keep people away from their personal space. Another concern to take into account is that the dog might be in some kind of pain. In the wild a dog in pain will act aggressively to hide their weakness for survival, another good reason to talk with the owner.
Ok, let’s get to the safe (and polite) way of meeting dogs for the first time. When I say ignore them, I do not mean in a stiff or nervous way, just nonchalant, “there’s not a dog there” way. If the dog approaches you, this is not an invitation for you to reach for them. Take this time to talk to the owner while the dog smells your shoes and pant legs. In other words, this is how to correctly “let them smell you”. Watch the dog’s body language. If they are nervous this may be the end of your interaction, and that’s ok, because you taught the dog that strangers are not something to be feared or nervous about. You may have just helped a dog that is already fearful of people take one step towards recovery. If the dog is over excited (often confused with happy), continue to ignore and do not nurture this behavior. This might be something that the owner is trying to work on with their dog and if you are the person who says, “oh, that’s ok if he jumps on me, I love dogs!” While this may be true, you could be undoing progress this dog has made in meeting people calmly.
When meeting dogs for the first time always defer to the owner. If their dog is calm and balanced, has had a chance to smell you and you would like to pet them, again, ask the owner if it is ok. The best way to pet a dog you are meeting for the first time is not reaching for his head/face or by leaning over them. Again, very intimidating and may cause a fearful or aggressive reaction, even if it doesn’t, trust me, they don’t like it. So if the owner says it’s ok, crouch slowly with your side to the dog (not face to face) and let them decide if they want your relationship to move any further. If they move toward you and invite some affection from you, go for a chest massage, maybe working into an ear rub, but keep an eye on the dog’s body language.
Meeting dogs for the first time is not complicated. Always do what’s best for the dog and your interaction will be much more enjoyable for you, the owner and most importantly, the dog.