When we first meet another person we usually get to know them by having a conversation, by asking questions about them. We humans love to talk about ourselves! But, the small talk does serve a purpose. It lets us know if this is a person we want to spend more time with. Dogs do this through sniffing us.
When a dog sniffs us they are not initiating contact, they are gathering information. It’s a common misconception that when a dog approaches us and starts to sniff that they are inviting us to interact with them; they’re not. They’re simply deciding if we are someone they want to be friends with.
So, how do we prove ourselves worthy of a dog’s attention?
Allow the dog to approach you – Don’t invade their space and force your attention on them. Just stand still with your hands in a neutral position and allow the dog to sniff you.
Don’t extend your hand – A dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be between 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than ours. Believe me when I say a dog can smell you just fine without you sticking your hand in their face.
Don’t stare – avoid eye contact, staring at a dog can be overwhelming, even threatening to some dogs. Instead keep you face relaxed, your eyes “soft” and look at the ground or the dog‘s owner.
Don’t reach over the dog’s head – Dogs really don’t like people looming over them or reaching out to pet their head. Likewise the person that sneaks up from behind and touches the dog on the back.
If the dog wants to be your new friend they will move closer, lean into you, they might wiggle a bit. You should see loose body language, a slightly open mouth, a relaxed face. Great, now you may pet the dog!
Start by petting the dog on the chest, back or side. Pet for a few seconds then stop. If the dog wants more they’ll stick around, maybe even nose or paw at you. If the dog walks away, then they’re done and the petting session is over.
If you truly are a dog lover you’ll respect their wishes to choose who they interact with. Now it’s up to you! Get out there and meet some dogs – – the right way!