Unfortunately for fearful and aggressive dogs, the manner in which most people introduce themselves to dogs can be seem threatening. While a well socialized dog may tolerate and even enjoy a hand reaching out to them, a face looming over them or eye to eye contact, the scared dog often cannot.
The Dog Gone Safe website has information to help anyone learn more about how to greet and interact with dogs.
It is best not to assume that any dog you encounter is a dog who is comfortable greeting a stranger. Even the most social dog can be stressed in some situations and prefer to be left alone. It’s best to let a dog initiate an interaction with you, rather than you moving toward them. Even a dog that approaches you for a sniff may not be saying, Hi! pet me! They may be curious about you, coming close for a sniff and not wanting or expecting to be touched.
Children are often taught to put their hand out for a dog to sniff. This is not a problem for a happy to see you kind of dog, but for a fearful dog that hand can be scary and for a dog that is aggressive, biting that hand may seem like the thing they need to do to protect themselves from it.
People who consider themselves to ‘good with dogs’ or people who would say that ‘dogs like them’ are often the worst when it comes to dealing with fearful dogs. They just cannot accept or believe that a dog would not warm up to them or enjoy their company. A fearful dog’s behavior should not be taken personally.
Below are a few guidelines to follow when meeting new dogs.
Do not approach a dog, especially if it is tied up or on leash.
Ask the owner if it is ok for you to interact with their dog before you do so, and even then proceed with caution. There are plenty of owners who are not aware of how uncomfortable their dog may be.
Stand still if a dog approaches you for a sniff, leave your hands by your side and glance away from the dog.
Squat down instead of bending over to talk to or pet a friendly dog. Avoid staring at them, putting your face near theirs or hugging them.
Do not reach over a dog’s head to pet it, instead offer chin scratches or chest rubs.
Do not touch a dog who has rolled over.
Ignore a dog that shows any indication of being timid or upset. Baby talk, reaching out with treats, or any attempt to connect with the dog can backfire and cause the dog to react fearfully or aggressively.
Do not think that every dog you meet needs to be handled. Watch a dog’s behavior and body language carefully. Learn about body language and how communicate their feelings. A dog that is not obviously happy to see you is telling you a lot about what they would like or not, to happen. If a dog is not inviting you to handle or interact with them, don’t.