Getting to meet someone, new or familiar, is often a very exciting thing for a dog. There are new smells to take in, potential pets to be had, and a new friend to be made! So they jump up to get close and smother strangers with kisses to get as much love as they can.
Does this sound familiar to you?
This display of adoration and love may seem endearing, but aside from being a rude invasion of space to an unwilling participant, it can turn from cute to dangerous in a heartbeat when your dog decides to enthusiastically say hello to the wrong person. Allowing this sort of behavior to continue is just not worth it. Working with your dog to design an appropriate way to get them all the love and attention they want will benefit you, your dog, and everyone that gets to meet your furry companion.
To give you an example, I’m going to describe what I would call a “perfect greeting” between a stranger and my dog: A stranger my dog has not met before approaches. My dog stays by my side, not pulling towards the stranger or shying away. As the person gets closer, the dog checks in with me by looking at me then looking back at them. The stranger asks me permission to say hello to my dog. Since my dog is relaxed and not showing any signs of fear or anxiety, I say “Sure,” then cue my dog by saying “Go say hi!” The stranger waits as the dog approaches them calmly and gives the person’s legs and hands a sniff.
This meeting may have less dramatic flair than a bouncing pup, but it is an incredibly respectful way to honor any boundaries either party may have. The stranger decided to initiate the interaction and my dog was given a chance to consent with their body language when the stranger paused to ask me first. My dog was able to approach on their own terms in a calm manner, and was given the chance to engage further or back away. From here, me, my dog, and our new friend can assess if we want to continue saying hello or go our separate ways.
Things won’t always play out this way, of course. That was an ideal scenario, not necessarily a realistic one. Dogs and humans are often unpredictable, after all, and we can only do our best to set our dogs up to guide them towards the perfect greeting we’ve imagined for them.
As the one thing you can control most is your own actions, this must start with you. I’ve seen many well-intended people lean down to give their dog love while the dog is actively jumping all over them in excitement, which immediately teaches the dog that jumping gets them attention.
Think about how you and your dog say “hi” to each other then create a checklist that details what you want those interactions to look like. How can you give your dog lots of love and affection in ways that don't reinforce impolite behavior? It might be hard to know where to go from here. You and your dog will be learning how hard habits are to break at the same time, so be committed and patient. And know when to ask for help from a trainer who can keep you on track, this stuff is difficult!
Of course, the humility of finding out it’s not just teaching your dog to keep their feet on the floor, but also teaching yourself what to do when they don’t, reveals how often you’ll find yourself human-training when you begin to introduce your dog to other people. This is often much harder than dog training.
Human training requires clear communication from you and a willingness from them to do things on your terms. Both of those things can be hard to achieve, so be kind to yourself throughout the process and get comfortable telling people your checklist and what to do if your dog doesn’t follow it. Trust yourself. You know what’s best for your dog. Be unyielding in your instructions, regardless of what they push back against. Reminding yourself needing to practice advocacy is a completely normal part of the process.
If you don’t trust the person will be capable of listening to your instructions, don’t be afraid to say “No. You cannot meet my dog right now.” “No” is your strongest ally. A person who is unwilling to listen to your boundaries around greeting your dog will set your dog up for continued failure and reinforce the exact behavior you are trying to change.
Having trusted accomplices (usually friends and family) who understand your checklist and are willing to follow your instructions will be invaluable in the beginning. Make sure to cover your guidelines thoroughly so everyone is on the same page, including yourself. Don’t forget to get your “No, you can’t say hello right now,” ready. Try as they might, people do and will make mistakes. You are the first and last defense to stop an interaction if you notice your dog isn’t being polite or isn’t comfortable.
Speak up when the situation doesn’t feel right. You have the power to set them up for successful greetings by preventing a greeting gone wrong.
With time and lots of consistent practice, soon your dog will be the star of any social interaction they engage in. Your dog will come to understand how to properly begin an interaction with someone and get the love they want. You will feel confident advocating for your dog’s needs and knowing their limits.
If you are struggling with this skill and unsure where to start your checklist, reach out to Kind Animal Services. We know how to stand in as that trusted accomplice or habit-free teacher that can create an individualized plan to get you and your dog on track to getting your dog the attention they deserve in private or group training classes.
Continue reading for outlined instructions and a checklist template…