In a dogs world the respectful, balanced way of a dog greeting a new dog is to gauge their energy first as they approach, make eye contact, observe body language and then if all the signs are good, go in and sniff! For a dog with no manners this may still occur but at a 100 miles an hour! Followed possibly by some vigorous ‘play’ type behaviour or even mounting. It’s at this point that a disrespectful dog can get themselves into a whole heap of trouble! Why? Well how would you feel if someone you’d never met before came bounding into your personal space and started mouthing off? You’d get a little defensive! And without being aware of it, will go into what is known as ‘Survival’ mode – Fight, Flight, Avoid, Submit or even Freeze! Well, dogs do just the same…take the following scenario: A chilled out dog (A) off lead walking along is approached by another dog (B) running towards them. Dog (B) bounds into dog (A), tail up, hackles up, straight in sniffing the dogs mouth then pushing their nose underneath their belly, almost ‘wood peckering’ I call it. They then start to put their head over the top of the dog, quickly followed by attempting to mount them in an overpowering way. Dog (B) persists with this behaviour until the point Dog (A) goes into Survival mode- Avoidance- moving away from Dog (B), Flight- running to get away from dog (B), both Survival tactics fail as Dog (B) chases. Dog (A’s) tail goes down and then under, ears back showing signs of becoming insecure or even fearful. The only option then left for Dog (A) is to turn and display ‘Fight’ behaviour to get out of the threatening situation, so Dog (A) snaps or if ignored by Dog (B) goes into full on attack mode. Which owner and dog gets the blame?…Dog (A) of course, usually getting accused with ‘Your dogs aggressive, it should be on a lead!’
I observe this scenario on a regular basis when I’m out working dogs in dog walking areas. What gets me is that some people miss the early warning signs, often due to their lack of understanding dog body language and behaviour but also sometimes by not paying attention ie chatting, being on their phone or being a huge distance away from their dog. I see so many dog behaviour cases where a dog, who may already be naturally slightly insecure, has gradually over time been chased, hassled and eventually attacked by ‘rude’ dogs like Dog (B). Over time that dog then becomes so insecure or fearful around dogs that they start to go into ‘Survival’ mode of fight almost immediately they are approached by another dog. The result is the owner contacting me saying their dog is aggressive!
So what can you do? Well your dog needs you to be in charge when greeting other dogs. You need to protect them or correct them! If your dog displays ‘disrespectful’ behaviour, like Dog (B) be responsible and correct them or put them on a lead. Don’t let them hassle or chase a dog that is clearly not having fun! If your dog is the one being hassled or chased then take your dog away from that dog or situation. When I’m working with clients and dogs I’m rehabilitating I teach owners how to read other dogs energy, body language and behaviour, so they are better informed and can make the right choice for their dog. I choose which dogs I want my dog/client’s dog to interact with, depending on whether or not I think they will be a good influence. Dogs that approach in a respectful, calm way I stop and allow a greeting to take place. Dogs that are manic, barking, or generally just have no manners at all, I will continue to walk past and if needs be will ask the owner to get their dog and/or put them on a lead. By paying attention and taking control of your dog’s interactions on a walk or even in the house, both you and your dog will have a much more positive, enjoyable walk meeting the dogs you both choose to meet!