Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Canine Meet and Greet

The reason why dogs typically have trouble meeting new people is that they didn't have enough positive experiences with a variety of unfamiliar people during puppyhood. From three weeks to three months of age, puppies are most receptive to forming bonds. If they meet a variety of people and have positive experiences, they believe that all people will treat them well. Dogs who don’t receive the type and number of experiences they need often end up being fearful of some or all unfamiliar people.

Fortunately, Morris K9 Campus provides plenty of opportunities to socialize dogs--our Levels Training Program, Daycare and social events that incorporate a variety of dogs and people. But just in case your dog or someone else's hasn't be properly socialized, here are some tips for a doggie meet and greet.

How We Make It Worse
People can unintentionally make the situation worse by forgetting to let a dog approach them rather than barging into their space. In this case, some dogs will freeze or shrink, pretending it's a bad dream, while others bark or growl. A sweet, slightly insecure dog can quickly turn into a defensive, growling one at the least convenient moment.

Some owners respond to this behavior by reprimanding or punishing their dog, but this just teaches him to hide his fear from you. As a result, your dog might repress his barks and growls until he reaches his breaking point, resulting in a bite.

Why Are Dogs Afraid of Me?
Many of us can’t understand why dogs are afraid of people who are making friendly human gestures. But try to think of things from a dog’s perspective. Imagine your child is afraid of dogs and a friend allows their dog to bound right into your child’s face. Telling your child the dog is friendly isn’t likely to make her feel any better. Instead, your child would appreciate being able to greet the dog on her own terms. 

So how should we meet a dog? Stand straight up or crouch down on one knee while looking slightly away so the dog can approach and sniff you at his own pace. You can speed up the friendship if you drop some tasty treats close to where you’re standing. If the dog takes the treats without any hesitation, you can try holding the treats in your hand for him to take.

The trick to ensuring that you don't frighten a dog even after an initial positive greeting is to gradually get him used to you in different positions. Avoid leaning over him, reaching over his head or grabbing and hugging him. Instead move slowly and smoothly in order to give him a chance to back away.

What Is the Dog Telling Me?
Often the biggest mistake we make in meeting a dog is failing to recognizing body language. For example, a dog may be tense with eyes darting back and forth or looking away while he's cowering. Yawning, licking lips, panting, moving in slow motion, moving ears down or to the sides, tail between his legs or a furrowed brow are all signs that the dog is stressed or anxious. If you see any of these signs in a dog, quickly move away so he's out of range. The goal is to change the dog’s emotional state from scared to happy so that he can eventually learn to associate unfamiliar people with good things

A Happy Ending
The body language you want to see when greeting a dog includes relaxed posture and a steady, soft gaze. His tail should either wag or hang loosely down. The experience should seem very familiar to the dog and be fun and pleasant for you! 

If your dog is struggling with meeting new people or dogs, give us a call. We'd be happy to work with both of you to make meeting new friends a positive experience.


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