Give Your Dog Choices During Greetings
It’s all about choices, especially for dogs. Let’s face it: Dogs really don’t have many choices in life. Dogs don’t choose their roommates (i.e. other dogs), veterinarian, food, treats, daily walking path and potty times.
While I have discussed choices extensively in other articles, let’s discuss giving our dogs choices when they’re meeting other dogs or people. It’s important to note that many dogs react aggressively during greetings because they’re scared. They don’t want to meet other dogs or people, so they run away or lunge forward to stop introductions. Giving your dog a choice during greetings will drastically reduce fearful dog behavior.
Not All Dogs Want to Meet Other Dogs & People
There’s a huge human social element when dogs meet other dogs and people. Most pet owners are painfully embarrassed when their dog dislikes greetings, but they don’t know how to handle the situation. No one enjoys saying “no” to strangers or children; some may even feel conflicted, especially if their dog dislikes greetings.
Pet owners hold their breath, hoping the greeting will be better than the last one, so they stand rigidly holding their breath while their dog’s eyes widen. But there is a better way—a human socially acceptable way to stop this from happening.
Do know, most dogs are uncomfortable with greetings even if they’re meeting friendly people. If this helps, my dogs don’t meet other dogs on leash and I’m a professional dog trainer. When my dogs meet people, I give them choices during the greeting and I support my dogs’ decisions overtime.
Ask the Dog First
In the past, I instructed pet owners to say, “We’re training. No petting please” to strangers, children and other dogs when they approached for greetings. While it worked to keep others away from their dog, many pet owners felt awkward and a bit rude during these “no, stop it” interactions.
There had to be a better way that worked for everyone, especially the dog. The method I now use and tell my clients is the “Asking the dog first” method. It’s a socially acceptable way of disrupting a greeting while allowing your dog to make a choice.
Next time someone barrels toward your dog with an outreached hand, asking to pet your dog, step between your dog and the person and say, “Let’s ask my dog first.” If your dog walks over and greets the person, then reinforce calm behavior (i.e. no jumping and sitting politely for petting).
If your dog decides not to engage, respect your dog’s choice and explain, “Well, he’s feeling a bit shy today and that’s okay, so we’ll respect his choice. Maybe next time.” Many pet lovers graciously understand this explanation because no one wants to force a dog to do something he doesn’t want to do.
When Your Dog Chooses to Disengage, It’s Okay!
When your dog makes a choice, support his decision every time. Yes, it’s uncomfortable watching your dog choose to disengage and the person’s feelings may be hurt. Instead of standing quietly and awkwardly, take a moment and explain why choices are so important for dogs.
Lightheartedly explain, “Dogs really don’t have many choices in this world, so this is my way of offering my dog choices and it works well for both of us.” Not only are you supporting your dog’s choice, but you’re also planting the seed that dogs need choices. Soon, pet lovers will mimic this behavior, which will drastically reduce dog bites and prevent aggression.
Choices are everything!