Have you ever wondered why your dog greets you the way they do? Why do they get so excited when you come home? Why do they jump up, spin around in circles, or clobber you with their front paw?
As dog moms, most of us fully embrace whatever way our dogs choose to greet us. Of course, we might find it cute and adorable when our dogs jump up to greet us. However, guests might not appreciate your dog hurling themselves at them when they walk through the door.
We often have difficulty understanding how to handle our dog’s greetings, so let’s talk about it! Here are some of my best tips to help you better understand your dog’s greetings and how to manage greetings so that both parties feel safe, calm, and happy.
And then there’s all the mystery around dog-dog greetings … should we allow it? How to know when it’s ok, and how to handle things when we do encounter other friendly dogs …
We often have difficulty understanding how to handle our dog’s greetings, so let’s talk about it!
Meeting social needs
Before anything else, we need to look at our dog’s greetings through the lens of meeting social needs. Like humans, dogs have social needs. Dogs need to be able to greet like dogs. So, bopping nose to nose or nose to butt is normal for dogs, especially when greeting other dogs. Humans greet in different ways, usually face-to-face, with a handshake, a hug, and so on.
One of the most important things about greetings, whether a human or dog is greeting you, is that you and the greeter feel completely safe. You don’t want your dog to charge at you and accidentally give you a nose bleed in the process. At the same time, you don’t want to reject your dog’s greeting altogether. As social animals, we both need to feel safe and accepted.
When dogs greet you, they tend to want to get close to your face and make contact with their nose or mouth. As humans, we prefer our dogs to greet us gently. We don’t want to get hurt, and we don’t want our dog to get hurt in the process either.
All social animals need connection. Dogs love to feel connected to their owners, and when they greet you, it’s because they’re happy to see you. We can learn a lot about dog greetings from the way they greet each other. They usually don’t approach each other head-on and prefer to take a sideways approach if possible. They sniff each other, and if it’s a friendly greeting, they eventually move out of each other’s space and continue on their way.
It’s up to us to facilitate the natural greeting process between dogs. Of course, not all dog greetings are friendly. It’s very easy for a dog greeting to go horribly wrong, and you want to do your best to avoid a situation like that from unfolding.
So, what should you do when your dog is faced with a greeting opportunity? Here are a few guidelines that I suggest you follow:
- Greetings should only happen if all parties feel safe, calm, and happy
This first rule is in the context of a controlled greeting where another human is involved. It’s a controlled environment. If you, your dog, or another dog (or human) don’t feel safe, calm, and happy, don’t try to insist on a greeting. Only let the greeting happen if you’re sure that everyone involved is comfortable with the greeting.
2. Greetings should only happen if you and your dog are connected, attentive, and responsive to one another
If your dog is overexcited or over-aroused, they’re probably not ready to greet anyone or another dog. When your dog is clearly disconnected from you, skip the greeting. Don’t bother getting you and your dog into a potentially tricky situation if you are not confident that you have your dog’s attention. It’s essential to be wholly connected, attentive, and responsive to one another before a greeting even takes place.
3. “Friendly” does not equal “ready to greet appropriately”
I’m calling this out again: Greetings happen Only if there is no over-arousal. If your dog, or the other dog, or the human is already over-aroused, it’s just not going to go well…so just don’t do it. You may have had the thought (or heard it from the other side) “My dog is just friendly” as the dog is jumping, lunging, barking in a frenzy. (even a happy one)
You know, It’s never ‘friendly’ or appropriate for partners to pull one another, nor is it friendly to lunge and charge at another human or a dog. Think about it … we would not like other adult humans to do that to us, right? Weird!! Awkward, and perhaps downright overwhelming and worrisome. We don’t want our dogs to do that to others either.
4. Many dogs have ‘greeting anxiety’ for lots of reasons…
Many dogs are anxious about greetings for lots of reasons. Perhaps they feel crowded, or restrained, or uncomfortable about the other dogs or people, maybe the environment is a bit stressful. Many dogs have a conflict around greeting, they’re getting mixed messages from us, or we are interfering in ways they don’t understand…and the bottom line is that they end up getting more aroused and sort of frantic about greetings. Their anxiety escalates and their arousal rises … which causes us or the greeted party to not be happy about the greeting and give mixed messages … which in turn adds to more greeting anxiety, less confidence, more arousal … and things spiral quickly. That can manifest as jumping, spinning, nipping, peeing, face bashing etc.
“Greetings should only happen if you and your dog are connected, attentive, and responsive to one another.”
How you and your dog greet each other
If your dog is too excited and you’re worried about getting hurt, you need to show them how to greet more peacefully. You can start right where you are and meet your dog where they are. As far as your dog knows, greeting you by jumping up and getting excited is natural. So, by meeting your dog where they are, that means you allow them to greet you in a natural dog way. Over time, you can teach them how to modify their greeting so that it’s more acceptable to you or other humans.
Figuring out how to get you and your dog face-to-face is a good place to start. Remember that your dog needs to feel like they belong, so smile at them with love in your heart. That will help to soothe your dog’s anxiety or over-excitement around greeting.
You also need to role model calmness to your dog. Slow down your breathing, stroke your dog, and try to exude calmness. Bring your energy ‘down’ by stroking your dog under their chin or on their chest, which also encourages your dog to keep their feet on the ground.
If you have an excited puppy and they’re desperately trying to jump up, you can try to hook your thumb through their collar while scratching their chest to help protect your fact, while you teach your puppy that greetings happen close to the ground. Puppies are smart and they will quickly learn that you’ll come down to them for a proper greeting. Then, once your puppy has relaxed about the greeting process, it will be much easier to teach them the finer greeting details.
“You are responsible for managing the greeting to keep everyone feeling safe and happy.”
The Partnership Greeting Protocol
Inside the Brilliant Partners Academy, I teach something called “The Partnership Greeting Protocol,” which is how partnership seekers greet, facilitate greetings, and help their dogs greet. You can find more details about this protocol inside the academy, but for now, let’s talk about the basics of how you can use this protocol to manage greetings in a safe, calm, and happy way.
There are some steps to the protocol to be aware of:
- Safe, calm, and happy FIRST
- You are the role model and loving leader
- You are responsible for managing the greeting
- You’re responsible for setting the boundaries
- Pay attention to your dog’s choice
- Allow your dog to be responsible and empowered for moving forward with the greeting or not
- Be clear about what moves you and your dog forward with the greeting
- You and your dog are connected on a leash and are attentive and responsive to one another
- At the first sign of over-arousal or over excitement, you (the loving leader), choose to move away purposefully
- Greetings only happen politely
- Remember to approach in a soft arc or sideways, so the dog feels most comfortable
- When greeting other dogs, if all of the dogs and humans involved feel safe, calm, and happy, the greeting has the green light to go-ahead
Now, here’s how that perfect greeting would go (if all of the steps above have been met). You approach the dog calmly, the two dogs greet and sniff each other, and the whole greeting is done in three seconds. Yes, just three seconds!
“Dogs first greet one another very briefly – that’s typically only 3 seconds!”
Interesting statistics about dog greetings to help you make better choices with your dog…
Studies have shown that when dogs greet each other naturally, they go in for a sniff, and then back out of each other’s space within three seconds and rarely linger longer than eight seconds.
So, don’t be sad if your dog doesn’t hang around to play with another dog. It usually doesn’t happen like that between two dogs that do not know each other very well.
80% of greetings between two friendly dogs who don’t know each other are unreciprocated. So, there’s a high chance one dog will ignore the other or just stand there accepting the sniff but not sniffing back.
Another interesting fact is that dogs recognize different things when assessing other dogs. They’ll consider the other dog’s size and play style. If the play style is similar, the dogs are much more likely to play with each other.
Finally, urinating and investigating another dog’s urine can be considered a greeting. It may seem like a strange way to greet another dog to us, but it’s totally natural. Plus, it’s a safe way for dogs to assess one another without having to get too close.
Get started with this, and let me know how it goes! I LOVE to hear from you!! I may not be able to respond to every email, message, comment or post … but I love reading as many as I can!!
If you’d like to work with me and learn how to create a partnership lifestyle for you and your dog, you can request an invitation to join us in the Brilliant Partners Academy when the doors open for the next enrolment!
You can listen to everything I talked about in this blog post over on my podcast – Enlightened By Dogs. It’s episode 142, which you can listen to here.