Boy and Dog Show Good Manners
The rescue transporter was waiting as I drove into my driveway. Rescue dog, Rex, was at the end of the leash looking at me, ears up, body still. As I walked up to him, I focused on reading his intent and monitoring my thoughts. Do I pet him? Is he friendly? Is he safe? Knowing Rex had been pulled as an adoption wannabe, I did reach out to pet him, calmly and briefly. He never moved.
After putting Rex in the kennel, the transporter and I talked briefly. She said that Rex had been deemed unsuitable for adoption by the shelter because he had growled when inadvertently mobbed by developmentally disabled children.
“Ah,” I said, “did you notice his reaction as I walked up to him?” The rescue transporter shook her head. When I filled her in, she was surprised because he had been described as friendly. Then she added, “…by everyone who knew him.” As it turns out he really is friendly. Once he knows you, he is a tail-wagging sweetie. But obviously he needs more confidence and social skills when introduced to different people.
Before continuing with practical tips how to meet and greet DINOS (Dogs In Need Of Space), I thought a summary column might pull together my previous columns about dog behavior and basic rules of interaction.
DINOS are on the fearful, reserved or shy side of the social scale, warming up slowly or not at all in any social encounter. Some get crazy reactive toward people and other dogs when their space is invaded. Others shy away. Many need time and physical space before deciding to interact.
My working premise with dogs is to help them feel safe and happy. How I behave depends on what I see and read. If the dog is relaxed, wiggling or tail wagging, perhaps walking toward me or leaning forward to say hi, I pet it. It could be a simple, calming stroke behind the ears for the more mellow fellow or excitable puppy, or a more vigorous thumping for the larger ones.
If I see a reserved or unsure dog, I look at the face and body cues before deciding what to do. For dogs like Rex who show only a bit of suspicion or insecurity, a simple pet may be the best decision. Others may need a little more time or a different greeting scenario before enjoying strangers. Just remember, it IS ok to just stand there. Maybe sweet talking is best, telling a dog she or he is beautiful or handsome anyway. I often comment to the owner that her dog is not “ready” to be petted.
Similarly, if a dog is worried about other dogs, I don’t let my dog enter its space until I see clear “I’m-ready-to-play” cues. Also I want to hear an invitation from the owner to let our dogs be together. As we will learn, one of the solutions to prevent or calm a leash reactive or excitable DINOS is to not let it pull forward into another dog’s space.
DINOS aren’t bad dogs. They do need understanding and help from the community to be a canine good citizen. As owners, friends and friendly strangers we can consider ourselves successful dog people when we see relaxed bodies and happy faces on every dog.
Next I’ll go into considerable detail how to approach a DINOS, helping it become more comfortable greeting people. Then we’ll start looking at how to get dog-to-dog interactions to work. We’ll explore it from the friendly stranger’s and owner’s points of view.