Trust: how to earn it from a dog
Bringing a dog home from a shelter? Trying to interact with a friend’s dog for the first time? We’ve all had those moments where our best intentions are spurned, and our well-meaning actions actually produce fear in the dog in question.
Our immediate reaction is to feel hurt and surprised. Rejection is never nice, especially when we’re trying to be friendly.
But remember: dogs don’t see social interactions the same way we do. And there could be a host of reasons the dog is reacting in its way.
So without further ado, here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when meeting a dog for the first time, and for ensuring trust in the medium-long term.
Tip #1: Keep low
People who approach from their fullest height are most likely to produce an excitable reaction in the dog. Instead, get low. Dog behaviorists note that it’s often best to approach from the side, as opposed to front-on. Don’t make direct eye contact. Instead, extend your hand and wait for the dog to reciprocate.
Tip #2: Take it slow
If the dog gives your hand a lick, you know you’ve won her trust. Pat her tummy rather than her back, because putting your hand atop her body makes her feel vulnerable at first. But more often than not, she’ll give your hand a sniff first. Wait patiently for her to lick, and if she doesn’t, accept that you haven’t quite broken through yet.
Alternatively, wait for the dog to come to you
Struggling? Keep eye contact with your host, not the dog, and stay five to six feet away from the animal. This way, you’re telling them that you respect their perimeter. If she decides to make the approach, then the hard work is done. This aloof, less-is-more approach often works a charm.
Tip #3: Be calmness personified
Dogs can read your energy – they’re masters at it, in fact. If you make your approach with lots of pent up energy, you’re asking for a bad reaction. Instead, remain calm at all times. Whether that’s avoiding eye contact altogether or speaking in a measured tone, remember the calmness trumps all. It’s not a bad idea to move slowly at first as well.
Tip #4: When in doubt, go for a doggy walk
Dog walks are great for bonding. Once you’ve earned their trust enough to get them on a leash, take them into the great outdoors. Walks are a wonderful way to impart the most important aspect of a human-dog relationship: that of pack leader and follower. As pack animals, dogs respect authority, and they absolutely must respect yours. Without respect, dogs are unruly and unhappy animals that lack direction.
Tip #5: Discover what makes them tick
If you’re the owner of a new dog who has arrived from a shelter, take the time to get to know them. What makes them happy? Is it frisbee in the park? Long walks? Extended Game of Thrones sessions on the couch? With time, you’ll discover the things that bring your dog happiness. From here? Well, keep doing it. Repetition and routine will make a dog trust you more than anything else. Stick to what works and leave everything else at the wayside.
Finally, remember that when you’re making your first approach, so much of how we interact with dogs is down to our energy. Calmness is a vital component of a successful first encounter, so keep it low key and you’ll be surprised by the results you get. As time progresses, solidify a routine that you know works and reap the rewards in the process.