Since I am around so many dogs, I have noticed that most dogs have lost their natural ability to read each other’s body language and foremost they have lost their ability to know how to greet each other. I see it while I am training with people entering class and I see it when I am training at the dog park. Unless a young dog lives in a house with an adult dog, most do not know how to greet another dog whether on a walk or in a dog park. For this reason, it is important that the owner be able to read dog language and be able to step in when their dog is acting inappropriately.
I have to admit, I am not a fan of dog parks. I will go to train a dog on the outside of the dog park but rarely will I enter the park itself. The reason is because many dogs playing in public dog runs lack proper social skills. They play too rough and too aggressively. I don’t like watching dogs intimidated by others who are so called ‘just playing’. Most people don’t understand that humping or mounting a dog is not ‘a hug’ but a dominant gesture. A dog that is running with its tail tucked and diving underneath legs or benches is afraid not having fun. I recommend allowing your dog to socialize with dogs that you know, dogs that have manners and training and dogs that know when and how to play and not to play aggressively.
Do’s and Don’ts for Meeting another dog
The best time to practice your skill of controlled walking and/or heeling is when you are approaching another dog on a walk or upon entering obedience class. First and foremost, your dog should not be pulling you toward that dog. Your dog should be walking in a nice controlled manner until you reach the dog. Your dog should sit at least 3 feet from the other dog and that is when you should ask if the other dog is friendly. If there is a slight hesitation or the person says ‘mostly’ DO NOT ALLOW YOUR DOG TO GO ANY CLOSER!
If the other dog is approachable, both dogs should greet each other nose to tail and then nose to nose but the approach should be calm not crazy pulling at the end of the leash. If your dog is pulling and or barking to approach the other dog you must immediately stop the forward motion and gain control over your dog. Your dog should not be allowed to approach another dog in that excited state of mind. The approach should be in a calm manner at all times. Imagine if a stranger approached you in that manner; if this person ran up to you and was standing toe to toe in your face putting their arms and hands all over you.
It would not only be odd but also inappropriate for that person to be that close to you and touch you. The same holds true for your dog. Even if your dog is greeting and friendly with other dogs it is inappropriate for him to run up into the face of another dog and touch him with his paws. The dogs need to be properly introduced and allowed to smell each other in a calm manner before play begins.
Do not allow your dog to jump on the face of the other dog or put his paws on top of the other dog (back or other), that is dominance, not ‘hugging’. If your dog is on top of another dog and the other dog is rolling over to show his belly, your dog is being dominant and should be corrected for such.
If your dog is young and approaches all dogs in this manner, find a friend’s dog that your dog can play with who is older and will be able to teach your dog manners. It may take a lot more training before your dog can greet strange dogs on the street without acting crazy.
It is the owner’s responsibility to learn what to look for and realize if their dog is learning proper social skills or being bullied by another. Owners must also keep an open eye and mind to the fact that their dog might be the one doing the bullying. Growling, hair raised and teeth showing are not signs of friendship. Dog owners must also learn the difference between a group of dogs acting like a pack and picking or chasing one and dogs just playing and chasing each other for the enjoyment of dog play. If a dog looks frightened or is being chased and his tail is tucked, that is NOT fun. And, it is also the owner’s responsibility to make sure their dog receives enough education to be a responsible part of society. For most dogs that may mean at least one year’s worth of dog obedience classes.