A Human Guide to Canine Etiquette
I have a bone to pick. Some of my canine friends from Europe recently visited the United States, and apparently our humans are known as being socially insensitive toward canines. I think we can do better, and that a little education goes a long way, so I have enlisted the help of my favorite humans to help me get the message out to you, the dog-loving public.
Let’s Talk Turkey
Humans talk. A LOT. Verbal communication seems to be your primary means of interaction. However, please understand that Human is a second language for us. Most canines communicate primarily with body language and resort to audible noise far less frequently than humans. This results in frequent misunderstandings between humans and dogs. Of the human average 16,000 words per day, it is challenging for most canines to differentiate WHICH of those words are relevant to us, and even more so, which words require a response!
The more socially appropriate way to communicate with your canine friends is using a “less is more” approach. The fewer words, the better. Gestures can help, but better yet, SHOW us what you want us to do. The more humans drone on, the more likely we are to tune you out. Human country music artist Toby Keith got it right when he sang, “… a little less talk, and a lot more action!”
Don’t Just Say No
Speaking of words we hear a whole lot, “NO” is definitely on the top of that list. In fact, it happens so frequently that there is even a joke about it where one dog introduces himself to another dog by saying, “Hi! My name is No-No-Bad-Dog. What’s yours?”
Obviously, it is important for us to know which of our normal doggy behaviors are considered inappropriate. However, most people aren’t very interested in telling us when we are on the right track. Throw us a bone (both figuratively and literally), and tell us when we are getting it right! After all, we are just dogs trying to make it in a human world.
Oh my, where to even begin? This is probably the biggest breach of canine etiquette in the entire realm of human/dog interaction! Dog greetings (when free to do so our own way), are very predictable. We are watching body language long before we approach each other.
We never approach head-on (unless we are picking a fight), preferring to circle each other while we sniff to get to know each other. Meanwhile, we continuously communicate our intentions through our body language. Human tendency to march straight up to us is highly confrontational. Sometimes humans show some wiggly body language that helps us to know your intentions are friendly, but often you are quite stoic. Humans rarely sniff us, or allow us to sniff before engaging physically with us, which catches many of my dog friends off-guard.
The more best way to greet canines is an indirect approach. If you aren’t willing or able to circle and sniff, at least turn your body sideways, and allow us to sniff you before you reach for us. If the dog turns away from you, that is him politely telling you he doesn’t want to interact with you today. Please respect that. While some dogs have gotten used to humans’ unconventional greetings, many dogs will find this approach a breath of fresh air, and are much more likely to appreciate the greeting!
Yet another problematic behavior (and often combined as part of the average human greeting) is the tendency you have to loom over us by bending at the mid-section. This is considered highly confrontational to most canines, and frequently results in us attempting to defer to, and/or appease you by urinating at your feet or having to jump up to reach you and lick under your chin. A dog who is having a bad day may instead decide to inform the offending human of how rude this behavior is by growling or even snapping at them.
The more polite way is to meet us on our level. For most humans, that means bending your knees and squatting down rather than bending over at the waist. Which, if I understand my human correctly, is considered proper form for humans anyway.
Combine this kneeling technique with the indirect approach and sniff, and you will have mastered the polite canine greeting!
Not a Hugger
Most dogs I know love our human families. We cuddle with them and accept physical attention from them most any time. However, it’s considered exceptionally rude by some to solicit or accept physical attention from unknown humans. Especially hugging and patting on the head. Reaching over a dog’s head can be construed as threatening, while hugging may be interpreted as restraint, and can make us exceedingly uncomfortable. Would you allow a complete stranger to wrap themselves around you?
The Bottom Line
As your dog’s caretaker, you have the ability to better communicate with other humans than we do, and we are relying on you to keep our best interest in mind. If a human is attempting to interact with us in a way that is considered rude, please inform them about how they can do it more appropriately. Better yet? Just gently let them know that we are “in training,” and not able to play with anyone at the moment. Then take us home and give us all the belly rubs and cookies we can handle.
*Written for Women's Lifestyle Magazine, February 2019 issue.