Greetings in the canine world

I am often asked by pet owners how to teach dogs to greet people. Most face a problem when they have visitors and the dog is jumping all over them. One rarely asks: How should people greet dogs?

The first thing to understand about greeting dogs is that full frontal greetings are an ape-thing. Canines don’t greet that way. If you observe two street dogs greeting each other or approaching each other, they approach each other in a wide arc. Then there is some mutual rear-end sniffing that goes on. Then they turn their faces away from each other, a bit like the air kisses we see Page 3 people plant on each other. After that, if the dogs decide that they like each other, they proceed to play bow or trot off together to do some exploration of the surrounding. On the other hand, if they decide they don’t like each other, they walk away.

Of course, as humans, we can skip the sniffing bit. But the rest is easy to learn and emulate. However, architectural designs of some houses do not allow us to walk in a wide arc. If you are entering a home with a narrow passage at the entrance, you are stuck in a position where you are facing a dog head on. I have walked into several houses, where the dog is deemed extremely unwelcoming of visitors and people have been taken aback as to how the dog takes a liking to me. It’s no magic. The trick is that I just turn my shoul ders away from the dog, avoid eye contact and just subtly turn my palms towards the dog. I walk, turned slightly away from the dog, into the living room and settle down. I don’t acknowledge the dog till the dog comes up to me. These are all non-confrontational ways of greeting a dog. A dog then decides I am not a threat and comes up to me. Easy-peasy! No tussles, no confrontations, no excitement. Just a smooth entry and everything is settled.
The other thing people often get wrong is how much importance we give to entry and exits. We greet our friends with major drama. Even our own entries and exits are so upbeat and high on emotion that one might think that we are heading out to a dangerous battle and when we return we are nothing short of thrilled to be back. I only wonder what goes on in our dog’s mind when he watches such emotional entries and exits. May be he thinks: “Mommyyy! You are baack! I was afraid that the big battle outside consumed you. You made such a big deal when you left. I thought you would never come back.“

A quick fix would be to keep entries and exits unceremonious. When you leave, show the palm of your hand to your dog, like the cop shows a stop sign and say, in a calm voice, “I’ll be right back.“ Not that the dog will understand those words. But it helps to reinforce the message that this is a casual exit. Make entrances even more low key. Walk in.
Say: “Hey puppy,“ use the stop signal again. Walk straight to the bathroom or kitchen or bedroom. Have a basic return ritual -drop off your bag, wash your hands, put a kettle on or something to that effect. When your dog is completely calm, pet your dog.

Training a dog to greet others starts with you learning how to greet your dog. Once your dog is used to your ritual, it’s easy to teach your guests similar rituals and your dog will automatically learn to play cool when visitors come. 


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