We’ve probably all had the experience of asking whether we could pet someone’s dog only to have the dog completely ignore us or try to run away, and it’s not uncommon for adult rescue dogs to be a little aloof at first.
It’s easy to take this personally and think that the dog doesn’t like us, but that’s because we’re looking at it from a human perspective. When two human strangers meet, our rules say that we introduce ourselves and shake hands. Dogs don’t have that rule with other dogs or with humans. Dog socialization is different from human socialization.
Think of the way that a lot people approach a dog for the first time. They talk to the dog, possibly in a high-pitched voice, approach straight on, and reach out toward the dog’s head. Is it any wonder that the dog doesn’t want to have anything to do with the human?
Here are the things you should do to earn a dog’s trust, whether it’s casually meeting a neighbor’s dog on the street or bringing a new dog into your pack.
- Stay calm
It can be tempting to greet a dog with excited energy, but avoid the temptation. If you approach a dog in an excited state, it can make the dog excited and lead to an unwanted greeting, like it jumping up on you. It can also trigger a dog’s fight or flight instinct if a stranger with high energy approaches. Stay calm and speak softly.
- Respect their space
Practice “no touch, no talk, no eye contact.” If you’re asking a stranger whether you can greet their dog, talk to the human and ignore the animal. Also avoid standing too close to the dog. Try to leave at least four feet between you before getting permission to approach.
- Get on their level
When you do approach the dog, do so from the side and never from the front. Kneel down next to the dog, facing the same direction. You’re now in the dog’s personal space, but in a non-confrontational way. Hold your hand down in a fist, still not making eye contact.
- Let them come to you
This is when the dog will let you know if she’s interested. If she sniffs your hand and stays calmly in place, then you can pet her — but pet the front of her chest. Never try to touch an unfamiliar dog from above. If she licks your hand, then she’s accepted you. However, if she turns her head away or doesn’t pay any attention, she’s just not interested. Again, don’t take it personally. Accept it and move on.
- Go for a walk
When first meeting a dog that you are going to adopt, the above procedures also apply, and you may need to respect their space and let them come to you for a while after they’ve moved into your home. Remember: in the dog world, the followers approach the leaders and not the other way around.
But once you have that new dog in your pack, the best way to earn her trust is to take her on walks. This is where you get to be the Pack Leader in action, and she gets to learn that you are giving her protection and direction. Maintain a calm-assertive state, and your confidence will quickly teach her that she is safe when she’s with you.
How did obedience training change your dog’s behavior?