We talk a lot about getting respect from a dog. But what about showing respect to the dog. What about having respect for the fact that when we are dealing with dogs we are dealing with an element of the animal kingdom that is far more in tune with mother nature than ourselves.
Many people do not know that wolves and dogs differ by only about 1% of their mitochondrial DNA.
That’s right, as far as DNA is concerned, your cute little Maltese is extremely close to a wolf. Their link to wolves is much closer than our link to apes, which can be demonstrated in the fact that dogs and wolves can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.
I do not mean to infer that dogs and wolves are exactly the same in every way. They’re not. All this wolf-talk is really just the backdrop for a more important discussion. Here’s some questions to start us off:
Would you as a human, walk up to a wolf and immediately start groping her face?
Would you stick your face in the face of a wolf that you do not know, make direct eye contact and start speaking to them in ways they do not understand?
Would you walk up to a wolf and stick your hand right in front of the wolf’s mouth?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it may be time for a psychiatric evaluation. The Majority of us will answer no to these questions, which presses me to ask: Why do so many of us feel that it is ok to do these things to dogs?
The fact is that too many of the dogs out in the world, any of the actions stated in the above questions, when done by a stranger, are considered threatening, stressful, or irritating. Many dogs learn early on to tolerate such foolish human behavior, but very few actually like it.
I do have one theory as to why we treat dogs this way. I propose that it is because at some point along the line, our society began treating and viewing dogs as infants. Not children, infants.
It is well known that many people treat their own dogs this way, rolling them around in strollers, and carrying them in purses etc.. However, we as a society appear to treat other people’s dogs in very similar ways that we would treat other people babies: bending over, cooing at them, and reaching out touch them almost immediately.
Of course we wouldn’t act this way to someone’s 18 year old son, and that is precisely my point. We don’t show infants a whole lot of respect, and I believe the assumption is that they don’t really know how to communicate much anyway. Therefore we impose our own will onto them, “I want to squeeze the babies cheeks,” so I do, “I want to put my face in their face and make weird noises,” so I do. We do these activities because for some reason we enjoy them, and we rarely stop to think about how the baby feels.
This is exactly the type of behavior I see people do to dogs. We see a cute fluffy dog and we just have to touch him. Who cares whether he likes it or not right? Wrong. Dogs do know how to communicate, and they do it very clearly. Humans often just 1) don’t even give the dogs a chance to communicate before we impose our own will, or 2) just don’t seem to actually care what the communication is.
The majority of dog bite cases that I see come into my center could have easily been avoided if the human would have taken an extra second, observed the dog’s body language, and respected mother nature.
Although there are many dogs who love the contact of any human who is willing, there are at least as many who do not. If the average human would stop for just a moment when approaching a dog, they would be able to see an animal that is showing signs of apprehension, uncertainty and probably a little nervousness. In other words, the dog will show pretty clear signs that they are not ready to be approached quite yet, and certainly not ready to be touched.
There is an act that I call “asking the dog’s permission”, and I think everyone should practice it whenever they are interacting with a dog. Instead of just diving right in whenever you want to touch a dog. Practice these steps to show the dog that you respect her, and she can trust you. Here is the formula:
**These steps assume that the dog is not showing any outward displays of aggression as you approach.
1) Move towards the dog, and stop about 2-3 feet away.
2) Do nothing
3) Observe the dog.
3a) if the dog seems curious about you, sniffing the air in your direction and wagging her tail in a low, relaxed way, then allow her to approach you and sniff while keeping your hands to your self. Only pet her if she nuzzles you for affection.
3b) If the dog is ignoring, than either ignore her, or walk away, which ever you prefer. She is telling you that she is ok with your presence, but not really interested in socializing at this time.
3c) If she lowers her head, diverts her eyes in a purposeful manner, turns to the side, or tightens her lips, calmly just give her space, and back off. What she is telling you is that she is not comfortable with your proximity and she needs a little more space to feel secure.
Whatever her communication is, RESPECT IT.
Notice that none of the steps above involve sticking your hand out for the dog to smell. You can remove that one from your repertoire.
It is also worth noticing that we are reading her communication, and stopping the interaction before it has become a growl or a lunge.
The beautiful thing is, that even if she initially displayed the behaviors shown in 3b or 3c, as she sees that you consistently listen to her communication, and respect her, the more comfortable she will be with you and then may begin to want to interact socially with you. But don’t expect this to happen after one try. She needs to see that you are consistently respectful.
Likewise, just because she has let you pet her once, doesn’t mean that you can dive right in from here on out. Always ask her permission, and she will thank you for it with mutual trust and respect.