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Meeting and Greeting

Extract from Aunty Kaye’s Doggy Dictionary of Training and Behaviour

Greeting behaviour

Dogs, being social animals, have many ritualised ways of greeting each other and meeting strangers. How dogs greet people reflects their canine instincts to some degree. We see a variety of greeting behaviours, and people vary in the way they interpret their dog’s behaviour. People also vary in what they find acceptable. Establishing acceptable greeting behaviour has practical value in everyday life as well as being a Leadership Exercise.

Greeting behaviour has some social significance to dogs because they are social animals, and to some extent how they relate to us (and how we relate to them) is based on how they would have behaved in the wild. For example it is normal for juveniles to greet adults who return to the den from a hunting trip. This involves “active submission” in other words, jumping up at the adults’ faces, licking their lips, cavorting around in front of them in a way that is at the same time servile and importunate. This activity serves to solicit food as well as to re-establish contact after an absence. Active submission feels like persistent, hassly attention. It is interesting to note how tolerant a mature dog will be, repeatedly turning aside from an irritating juvenile. I think it is good practice to emulate the mature dog’s tolerance.

At the same time, notice how mature or dominant dogs will tend to ignore juveniles. It conveys leadership if you give your dog a very low key greeting. You are behaving more like a juvenile playmate if you make a big fuss of your dog. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy your dog’s enthusiasm or show your affection, but keep it low key at first. This has the added benefit of reducing your dog’s over-excitement, and helping your dog to cope with your absence. Emotional arrivals and departures tend to heighten the contrast between time you spend at home with your dog and time your dog spends at home alone, leading to more stress and destructiveness, and possibly even separation anxiety for your dog.

There is a school of thought that says “dogs do it, so we should too” and a contrary school of thought that says “we are people, not dogs, so we shouldn’t be acting like them”.

I think I fall somewhere in the middle. Some people believe that “just because dogs sniff bums, doesn’t mean that we should do it too.” On the other hand I think we need to understand what sniffing and licking and other natural behaviour mean to the dog, especially as social behaviour.

For example, we teach greeting behaviour that’s acceptable to people e.g. “meet and greet” (sit for a pat instead of jumping up). If we let the dog sniff our hand and have a couple of licks, this might be an acceptable way to meet their doggy need to jump up and lick our lips, or to sniff crotches and bums.

The extract below focuses on teaching your dog how to meet and greet people.

Meet and greet

“Meet and greet” is a practical training exercise for everyday life. Most young dogs are very exuberant about greeting people. This may be attractive, but most owners don’t like their dog to jump up on people. Teaching your dog appropriate greeting behaviour and social skills also functions as a Leadership Exercise.

You can establish in your dog the habit of sitting in every day situations such as greeting people. Sitting is an alternative to jumping up.

Sitting to say hello instead of jumping up works best when it is taught as a habit, rather than something that your dog is trained to do on command. You can reward your dog for offering the behaviour – in other words doing it without a command. It becomes internalised, a habit, like a default option. This is preferable to having a dog who jumps up unless you can force or persuade him or her to do otherwise.

These two approaches (sitting in response to a command or signal and sitting as a matter of habit in particular situations) are complementary, not mutually exclusive. Together with physical control or management, they make up the three main ways of controlling your dog.

The poster below focuses on teaching people how to meet and greet dogs.

Another Boogie Poster…

Guidelines for meeting a new dog (Author unknown)

It is best not to assume that any dog you encounter is a dog that is comfortable greeting a stranger. Even the most stable dog can be stressed in some situations and prefer to be left alone. Unless you consider yourself an expert on dog body language it’s best to let a dog initiate an interaction with you, rather than you moving toward them. Even a dog that approaches you for a sniff may not be saying, ‘hi! pet me!’ My own scared dog will frequently move toward people to get a sniff but will bolt away should they move or look at him. He is trying to see what he’s dealing with, not trying to deal with it.

Children are often taught to put their hand out for a dog to sniff. Again, not a problem for a ‘happy to see you’ kind of dog, but for a fearful dog that hand can be scary and for a dog that is aggressive, biting that hand may seem like the thing they need to do to protect themselves from it.

I’m sorry to say that the people who consider themselves to ‘good with dogs’ or people who would say that ‘dogs like them’ are often the worst when it comes to dealing with fearful dogs. They just cannot accept or believe that a dog would not warm up to them or enjoy their company. A fearful dog’s behavior should not be taken personally. Sunny is an equal opportunity fearful dog, as are many dogs like him.

Below are a few guidelines to follow when meeting new dogs.

  • Do not approach a dog, especially if it is tied up or on leash.
  • Ask the owner if it is ok for you to interact with their dog before you do it.
  • Stand still if a dog approaches you for a sniff, leave your hands by your side and glance away from the dog.
  • Squat down instead of bending over to talk to or pet a dog. Avoid staring at them, putting your face near theirs or hugging them.
  • Do not reach over a dog’s head to pet it, instead offer chin scratches or chest rubs.
  • Do not touch a dog that has rolled over.
  • Ignore a dog that shows any indication of being timid or upset. Baby talk, reaching out with treats, or any attempt to connect with the dog can backfire and cause the dog to react fearfully or aggressively.
  • Do not feel like every dog you meet needs to be handled. Watch a dog’s behavior and body language carefully. Learn about calming signals and other ways that dogs communicate their feelings. A dog that is not obviously happy to see you (open mouth, waggy tail and body) is telling you a lot about how they feel. If a dog is not inviting you to handle or interact with them, don’t.

Another Sophia Yin Poster

Dogs & Psych S.Yin 18x24GreetPostersm A3 colour poster

Smaller version

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