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Should I Approach?

(this article is adapted from material I wrote for a Search and Rescue team. They asked for tips for reading dogs during evaluations.  This is also good advice if you are thinking of approaching or petting a dog.)

Friendly DogWhen you tell people your dog is friendly, it is best if you have words to describe "friendly". "Friendly" means different things to different people. If everyone uses the same definition, misunderstandings are minimized.

First of all, Friendly Dogs are not shy dogs and they are not pushy dogs. Dogs who are super active and/or try to take up your space upon greeting are not friendly, they are either anxious or pushy; sometimes a combination of both. It's the anxiety that makes them pushy...

Instead of "friendly" perhaps thinking of the word "neutral" is more helpful.

 

Neutral (Friendly) Dogs on Human Approach

  • Friendly DogRelaxed and no body tension.  In the photo at right, both dogs show soft eyes, half-mast ears, and a relaxed jaw and lips.
  • Mouth mostly open (think of my Border Collie – she's a real mouth breather when she approaches you. In humans it makes us look like idiots, but I love that idiotic look on a dog, because it means they won't bite me.) Or going from closed mouth to open mouth frequently.
  • Lip Licking
  • Eyes are blinking, the eyebrows are relaxed
  • Can you reach over the dog and pick up a foot and have the dog relax within a few (5 or less) seconds? The dog should remain relaxed and totally resigned, relaxed and totally accepting or you might get greeting behaviours while the dog still allows you to lean over and pick up the foot.
  • If the dog is blinking in an exaggerated slow way, they are being really sweet
  • Friendly DogThey are generally calm around people and the movements that people make
  • They are not under your feet – this is actually a dog trying to take up your space
  • In the photo at right, you see soft, squinty eyes, ears pulled back, and a relaxed head raised in "puppy-licking" type stance.
  • They do not push on you when you pet them. A dog that is pushing on you could be affectionate IF IF IF the body is still very relaxed and you could actually sort of "pose the head" like turning the head on a Barbie doll.
  • Ears half mast or down, but relaxed.
  • Dog looks at you when you approach JUST LIKE she is looking at her owner. There might be a brief mouth close, then the mouth opens again pretty quick. 
  • If you reach for the dog it does not duck away or, worse yet, freeze up 
  • The dog's body is moving and soft, when you touch the dog there is no momentary stillness, or freezing or any sort of increase in body tension.
  • There is not a big difference: increase or decrease in activity when you touch the dog
  • Any tail wagging is low and "soft", sweeping in motion
  • Looking right into your eyes with a soft eye, relaxed facial expression and mouth open or mouth closed with relaxed lips.

Dog to Dog

I am not so sure I like the word "friendly". In a working situation I would prefer a Neutral Dog – one that ignores others, and if a dog approaches, the dog may do a brief greeting or mostly ignore the other dog.Dogs Greeting

  • CALM, relaxed – lack of body tension. Did I say that before? Like a million times? In the photo above, the Golden Retreiver has softy, "squinty" eyes, half-mast ears, and a softening "front-on" position (by head turning).
  • Dogs are not looking, orienting toward or staring at other dogs. Staring is defined as any looking in a direction for more than a count of 1-2.
  • Head is lowered, but the neck and body are RELAXED. Head lowered with targeting, and/tension is a signal for resource guarding.
  • Ears, relaxed and half mast or against the head
  • During dog to dog greeting butt sniffs are kept to quite a distance from the anal face and are not prolonged. They are quick and polite.
  • Tense DogIf another dog is rude or pushy or approaches too quickly, a neutral, confident dog will not "lose his head" and over react. First he will try ignoring, neutrality and relaxed body posture. He might certainly get fed up with the asshole dog and then tell him what for, with a growl, tensing or air snap, but that would be second and it will even be done with a "calmness." Not in a hectic frantic, spinning way.
  • Preferably, upon a dog approach, if the owner is anywhere near, the dog might check in or look at the owner to see what is up.

In the photo (above, right), the Golden Retreiver has wide-open eyes with pupil dilation. Body tension evident in both dogs. The Aussie on the right showing a cautious stance - she KNOWS this is not going well but is using extremely poor judgement. The Golden has "Fish Butt" lips (a fish has to keep his butt closed really tight so he doesn't fill up with water) indicating tension in the jaw.

Agressive DogIn this photo (at left), you see hard eyes, ears pulled back, nose drawn up, tongue flick out of front of mouth and the body tension evident in planting of front legs.

 

Brenda Aloff's Articles (aka "Uncommon Knowledge"):

  • Yap-Yap-Yap ... "QUIET!" +

    Dogs Bark for a Variety of Reasons

    This is problematic when the barking becomes excessive or the owner cannot stop the dog from barking.

    People expect dogs to bark, and nobody minds that they do when it is appropriate (such as, temporarily, when someone comes to the door); what all of us would like is that our dogs be still when we ask them to do so.

    Much of the barking I see in my clients dogs arises from attention seeking behaviour. In agility class the dogs often bark at the handler because the dog is frustrated with the handler.

    Read More
  • Should I Approach? +

    (this article is adapted from material I wrote for a Search and Rescue team. They asked for tips for reading dogs during evaluations.  This is also good advice if you are thinking of approaching or petting a dog.)

    Friendly DogWhen you tell people your dog is friendly, it is best if you have words to describe "friendly". "Friendly" means different things to different people. If everyone uses the same definition, misunderstandings are minimized.

    First of all, Friendly Dogs are not shy dogs and they are not pushy dogs. Dogs who are super active and/or try to take up your space upon greeting are not friendly, they are either anxious or pushy; sometimes a combination of both. It's the anxiety that makes them pushy...

    Instead of "friendly" perhaps thinking of the word "neutral" is more helpful.

    Read More
  • Is Your Dog Bored? +

    rr-is-your-dog-bored-1-200x334pxHow many times have you felt your dog was "bored" with training? I hear this, especially from my performance people.

    This always brings me to a dead stop. Why? Because I have NEVER felt that my dogs were bored with training. This does not mean that they were perfect by any stretch of the imagination! My dogs make many errors and often lack judgement. To me, this is just part of training.

    Why Do People Feel Their Dog is Bored?

    I have queried the students who bring me this statement and this is what I have gleaned from the information they have given to me:

    Read More
  • My Animals, My Teachers +

    Some of My Dogs

    At home I currently have a Smooth Fox Terrier, Zasu and a Mini-Poodle rescue, Trixie. I should be thinking about a new puppy coming up, but after years of too many dogs (no matter how much I adored each and every rescue dog, it was still too darn many), I find myself not wanting to "share" this relationship with any other dog. So I have some mental homework to do on this subject!

    Zasu is my delight and joy and she makes me laugh every day with her hilarious antics. She reminds me that being too serious is just a ridiculous proposition. She is a hoot to do agility with because of her small size my old, rickety body can keep up with her better. She heels beautifully, retrieves like a champ and she knows lots of useless, extremely cute tricks.

    Read More
  • What's Your Mental Picture? +

    Do you have a clear mental picture of the exercise you are doing? And how about the mechanical skill set? What do YOU need to have on board to teach the dog the exercise? How about the dog's reflexes? Will that affect the work? What is timing? How can you use contrast and compare?

    Enjoy this podcast where Brenda Aloff discusses these questions.

    Read More
  • Teaching Responsibility to Your Dog +

    Have you ever thought about how teaching a dog a cue could be dangerous? When I say that to my students, they often exclaim “What could you possibly mean by that?”

    This is a conversation I had with my friend, Barb. So, imagine you are with us - Barb and I have been working her lovely Shepherd all day, and are now taking a break to go get dinner! Yay! Barb lives near a great Barbeque Place - The Ozona Pig. Yum.

    We have had lots of impulse control issues with Shadow, she is a very drivey AND strong-willed young dog, so we have worked a lot on creating control while still maintaining all her bubbly personality that we love. So, join our conversation...

    Read More
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