How We Say Hello Matters!

It’s spring, and both two-legs and four-legs are spending more time outdoors, enjoying the pleasant weather, and the four-legs are usually the attention getters, whether at the park, the pet store, or on daily walks. When someone appears with a dog it is almost mandatory for other dog lovers to fawn all over him, get right in his face, and talk to him in exited voices while reaching out to pet him, which sounds great, except for the fact that not all dogs are in love with every stranger they meet. Most dogs need time to process a stranger, and determine whether or not the new person meets with approval, but most people just gleefully dive right into the dog, kneeling, reaching, patting on the head, talking baby talk, staring… Actions that put many dogs into one of three states: fight, flight, or avoidance: All invitations to get nipped or even bitten.

The correct way to greet a strange dog is not at all…just ignore the dog. Yup… just ignore him completely, and greet the caregiver. As Cesar Milan stresses, “No touch, no talk, no eye contact is the advice I give for meeting a strange dog. Let him come to you to get to know your scent and sense your energy. Do not offer the dog affection until he shows calm, submissive energy. Once he decides that you are okay, you will notice the dog’s body posture relax, and maybe even a nudge into you for a scratch on the back. Don’t go overboard, even if the dog seems interested. No roughhousing, or loud vocalization. Push an insecure dog too fast, and he will act defensively. Stay calm and cool.”

If you see a lone, tethered dog, just leave him alone. If you feel he is being neglected, report him to the authorities, but don’t try to be Doctor Doolittle. More important, teach your children to do the same. Of the millions of reported dog bites in the U.S. every year, the majority of them involve children under the age of twelve, and are often due to adults encouraging them to greet the dog by touching him.

Lili Chin offers these specifics as how NOT to greet a dog:

  • Don’t lean over a dog and stick your hand in his face.
  • Don’t lean over the dog and stick your hand on top of his head
  • Don’t grab or hug him
  • Don’t stare him in the eye (dogs perceive this as an adversarial gesture)
  • Don’t squeal or shout in his face
  • Don’t grab his head and kiss him (this is an invasion of space).

Doing these things to a dog who doesn’t know you is like a perfect stranger rushing up to you to give you a great big hug and kiss…Wouldn’t that creep you out? And wouldn’t you have the right to defend yourself?

The correct way to greet a dog is to allow the dog to approach you in his own time, keeping either your side or back toward the dog. This will be perceived by the dog as a non-threatening posture.

When he approves you, stroke him on the side of his face or body, or on his back, not on the top of the head. (And if you have a treat in your pocket, now is the time to offer it!)

Think twice about letting your leashed dog greet unfamiliar dogs during walks, or in other public places, even if their caregivers assure you that their dog is friendly. Unless you are positive that the dogs interact well with other leashed dogs, don’t encourage contact. Aggression is usually triggered by inappropriate behavior of humans rather than the canines, but the dogs somehow always get the blame.

Respect your dog, and she will respect you. “I did what I knew how to do. When I knew better, I did better”—Maya Angelou

We recently found some awesome **FREE** dog posters online (also created by Lili Chin). These would make great handouts for those who serve schools or other educational events. Find more on her website:!freeposters/ckm8