Understanding how dogs communicate
When we meet someone for the first time, we usually give a little wave or handshake and exchange some pleasantries. Anything else, like a hug or pat on the shoulder, would be exceedingly weird and uncomfortable, but guess what – that’s what most of us have been doing to the adorable dogs we see on the streets!
Just like us, dogs have their own behavioural norms when it comes to making new acquaintances. Unfortunately, a lot of what we hoomans think is acceptable is a huge no-no in a dog’s world, so here’s what to avoid if you don’t want to weird out that good fluffy boy:
1. Invading personal space
Not all dogs like it when a human gets this close to them!
Nobody, whether two-legged or four-legged, likes having their personal space invaded by a stranger. If a dog is in a car, carrier, or kennel, it’s highly likely that it has already established the entire region inside as its territory. Reaching into it would be akin to breaking into a stranger’s house, which may trigger a fight-or-flight response. In this case, don’t be surprised if you get a bite to the hand since escaping is out of the option for the pup!
An invasion of a dog’s personal space also includes towering over them and putting your face awfully close to the dog’s, so refrain from doing those actions if possible. Instead, squat down a distance away from the dog and let it come to you.
2. Running towards it
Resist the urge to run towards this cutie!
As excited as we may be to cuddle a walking ball of fluff, seeing a stranger or object suddenly hurtling towards you is frightening for anyone, so avoid running towards a dog you’ve never met before as much as you can!
Some dogs may perceive it as scary, while others may get affected by your energy and become overly excited themselves. This can lead to barking, peeing, and bad habits like jumping up on a person – something that their owner probably wishes to avoid.
3. Direct eye contact
As the distinctively Singaporean saying goes, “stare what stare”.
Staring at a stranger is never a polite thing to do, and this seemingly harmless act carries much more unintended aggression than we realise. To dogs, direct eye contact can mean a challenge in dominance, and if you happen to stare at a feisty pup, you’ll be in for an earful of angry barks and/or threatening growls.
What you can do is to look at the dog’s ears or feet instead and blink slowly and deliberately if you happen to lock eyes to let it know that you come in peace!
4. Touching inappropriately
Closed eyes and a slack jaw is always a good sign to look out for
Dogs may look cuddly all over, but there are only certain areas where they allow strangers to touch, such as their back and shoulders. People often reach straight for the top of their heads, which is actually strictly off-limits for most dogs, unless the dog has a very tolerant and sweet disposition. Other sensitive areas include their face, paws, tummy, and tail.
Make sure to pet gently in strokes along the same direction as the fur too. Once the dog appears more comfortable around you, you can slowly move your hand under its chin or behind its ears to dole out some scratches.
5. Smiling with teeth
That’s not a goofy smile; that’s a snarl
A smile is a good sign to us humans, but in dog language, it’s as good as saying “back off”. This is why when dogs snarl or growl and are in an aggressive stance, they tend to bare their teeth. Only smile with your pearly whites fully exposed when you’ve completed the initial greeting process!
6. Surprising a dog
Think twice the next time you approach a dog when it’s not looking at you. Dogs and humans alike don’t appreciate sudden touches or loud noises, and again, these surprises can trigger their fight-or-flight instincts. Some will cower, some will bolt, and some will attack without thinking – just like how some theme-park-goers hit the staff in a haunted house by accident.
Always wait for a dog to notice you before you make a move to say hi.
You can be a dog whisperer too
Once you understand how dogs interact with other dogs and apply their ways to your canine greetings, there should be no problem in getting Fido to take to you kindly. That said, every dog’s personality is different and some might be more outgoing and trusting while others can be more reserved and wary, so always remember to observe their body language during your interactions!