Dog Greeting Etiquette

There have been a number of recent reports in the South African media regarding dogs biting and attacking people. Tragically these cases mostly end with the dog involved being euthanized with little regard to the circumstances leading to the attack. The sad reality is that most dog bites and dog attacks are avoidable given that dogs are not inherently vicious.

Aggressive behaviour in a dog is normally conditioned through its environment and handling or as a result of simple miscommunication. A dog that lives in an environment where it is consistently treated badly and tormented will often become aggressive as it lives in a perpetual state of fear and unease. Biting becomes its only means of defence. This is how Pit Bulls are conditioned in the dreadful underworld of dog fighting syndicates. Similarly there has been much debate about the value of prison systems in reforming perpetrators of crime. Many have said that the prisoners often become more hardened and better criminals in prison, as a direct result of the environment in the prisons – so really people are not that different.

A dog that is placed in an uncomfortable or perceived threatening situation will react defensively which is to growl and bite – really no different to how we, as people, would react in a similar situation. The growl, bark or bite is its only means of expressing itself. Keep in mind that each dog has a different tolerance level – again, much like people differ in what they perceive as acceptable ‘close proximity’ behaviour. The fact that the dog may be fluffy and cute is irrelevant.

People often greet a dog in a direct and overbearing manner – something that they wouldn’t dream of doing when introducing themselves to a person who is unknown to them.  Why then should this overbearing behaviour be acceptable when approaching an unfamiliar dog? When I hear about a dog biting or attacking a person or child, I always ask myself two pertinent questions.

  1. What are the dog’s living conditions and environment like?
  2. What were the events leading up to the attack that provoked such behaviour?

All too often the attack is the fault of the person or child who behaved, perhaps unknowingly, in an inappropriate manner. I came across these illustrations in a poster created by world reknown veterinarian and animal behaviourist Dr Sophia Yin which I thought depicts the point I’m trying to make very well. It is very important to learn these basic principals and to also teach them to your children. All too often children are bitten by a friend’s dog whilst visiting in their home which in turn frequently results in the “offending” dog sadly being put to sleep (euthanized) when in fact it was the child’s fault.

Ultimately appropriate greetings are common sense. Imagine if someone greeted you the way many people greet dogs.

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