Meeting a new dog can add a positive note to your day. Often, dogs are ready to greet humans with a bright expression and a happy wag of the tail.
However, there are techniques that you may have learned as a child that can make a dog nervous or stressed. When dogs get too stressed, they are more likely to become aggressive.
Here are a few myths about meeting dogs (and what you should do instead).
Myth: Let them sniff your hand
Parents have taught their children to put their hands out for dogs to sniff for many years. Unfortunately, dogs do not see this as a friendly way to greet each other.
When you put your hand out in front of a dog, you may invade their personal space, even if it feels like you are not very close. If the dog is already unsure about meeting a stranger and someone invades its space, it might start feeling threatened.
Instead of sticking your hand out, turn your body slightly away from the dog and allow them to approach you at their own pace.
Myth: The owner knows if the dog is stressed
Owners love their dogs and usually want others to share their enjoyment. To make their dog seem as friendly as possible, some owners will allow a greeting, even if their dog is stressed. There are also times when the owner does not recognize the signs that their dog does not feel comfortable.
While you should always ask an owner’s permission before petting a new dog, it is not the only permission you need. Once the owner agrees to let you pet their dog, you should look at the dog’s body language to see if it is interested in meeting you. You should watch out for warning signs such as:
- Pinned ears
- Stiff body position
- Raised hair on the neck or back
- Tense expression
If you see a dog with any of these characteristics, you should avoid eye contact with the dog and give it as much space as possible.
Myth: Wagging means a happy dog
When you think of a happy dog, you often think of a big sweeping tail, or you may imagine a little wagging nub for dogs with cropped tails. Although a wag can mean a dog is happy, this is not always the case.
Sometimes, dogs will wag their tails when they are nervous. You should give the dog space if a dog looks stiff or nervous.
While it can be disappointing when you see that a dog is nervous about meeting someone, remember that giving the dog space now may help them build their trust that you are safe next time. Also, when you are unsure if a dog is stressed, allowing them to have more space can help everyone have a better encounter.