We’ve always been told to offer our hand to a dog when meeting them for the first time, so they can smell our scent and “get to know us”.
But is it really the right way to meet a dog? Maybe not!
A recent viral Facebook post from Eureka Dog Services, a dog training company overseas, said that people should use their manners and stop doing “The Sniff Test” when approaching new dogs because the test is “a badly ingrained habit that society has been taught, without a clear understanding of what they’re actually doing.”
They say that often, the well-meaning person hasn’t actually sought permission from the dog’s owner before offering their hand, and that the approach (straight into the dog’s face) can actually come across as threatening and aggressive, rather than submissive and gentle.
“When you reach out towards a dog, you are using body pressure at them, giving them no time to assess whether you are safe and whether they require further investigation to pick up your information,”Eureka Dog Services
Upon reflection, it makes a lot of sense, right? As humans, we would feel threatened and cornered if someone thrust a hand into our faces … so it shouldn’t be a surprise that dogs feel the same way. And, just like humans, dogs may well react poorly to such a threat.
“You are forcing an interaction of a relationship that hasn’t had time to develop. To some dogs, this is quite rude and the reason a lot of dogs snap at or bite people.”Eureka Dog Services
So if we can’t hold our hands out to a dog to sniff, then how do we introduce ourselves to that beautiful dog that we so badly want to meet?
The most important step is to ask the dog’s owner for permission. Even the most gentle-looking dogs can have behavioural problems, or be liable to snap at a stranger. Seeking the owner’s permission is the first step to avoiding an unhappy or reactive dog.
The next step is to ensure your body language is non-threatening. Coming towards a dog from the front may threaten them, so it’s best to approach them slowly from the side, and allow them to make the final approach to you. Don’t look them directly in the eye – look away, and allow them to check you out.
Having a treat might also help smooth things over, but this isn’t guaranteed either – some dogs react poorly around food, so always check with the owner before offering a dog food.
The owner should also help to make a smooth introduction, by speaking to their dog in a calming and happy voice, and watching their dog for any signs of fear or aggression.