Greeting dogs

The funny thing is that what we’re taught when we’re children on how to greet dogs is typically incorrect. Let’s look at that.

We’re taught:

1. Offer your knuckles for smelling.

2. Stroke the dog’s head and down their body.

Let’s break these down.

1. Offer your knuckles for smelling.

In and of itself, this isn’t a bad idea. The concept behind this is to let the dog get your scent. However, in bending over the dog to reach out and offer our knuckles, we’re doing two things that, in dog body language, is actually pretty aggressive. First, we’re facing them straight on. If a dog is being friendly, they offer cheeks, not eyes. Second, we’re looming. Dogs only loom when they’re challenging each other! A better idea is:

1. Let the dog approach you and smell your ankles, or crouch and offer your open palm. (If the dog might snap at your face, DO NOT crouch, bend, or anything else to bring your face closer!)

2. Stroke the dog’s head and down their back.

Again, not bad in concept. But dogs don’t go over each others heads unless they’re leaping on each other — something only dogs who are friends do, and even then not generally head-on! Most dogs will flinch when you do this, wondering what the heck you’re doing. Those that don’t are usually puppies, have had no bad experiences, or have grown accustomed to it. Many dogs have one or all of these working for them, and so they don’t flinch. But if it’s a dog you don’t know? Better to:

2. Once the dog has sniffed your palm, curl your fingers under their chin and offer to give them a little under-neck rub, moving to the side of the neck and shoulder.

Dogs who are friendly go for sniffing cheeks, necks, and shoulders first; it’s much more natural, then, for us to do the same thing! With our fingertips, if not our noses!

Try it with the next dog you see (after getting permission, of course) and see if it makes a difference. I think you’ll be surprised!

And just for fun, another Lili Chen demo poster!

Greeting a Dog


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