by Jaclyn Lara, DANW Trainer and CPDT-KA
Let Me Love You
You are headed to the park to meet up with an old friend. It's been a while. They text to let you know they're by the water fountain with their St. Bernard, Rocky. You've been following Rocky's adventures on Instagram, and you can't wait to meet this giant teddy bear you've heard so much about. You scan the fountain area. There he is! Floofy as ever, sporting a big smile and wagging his tail. He glances your way and you look right into those big brown eyes. Rocky looks away. You try to hold eye contact and start jogging toward Rocky, shouting a big “hellooo!” Rocky turns away and starts licking his lips. His tail is still wagging stiffly, and he's looking at you out of the corner of his eye. Your friend spots you, but then asks you to slow your approach. ...............Why?
The Signs Were There
The moment Rocky looked away from you, he was asking to disengage from your direct attention. But then you responded by heading right toward for him and yelling, making Rocky even more uncomfortable. With the aversion of his gaze, stiffly wagging tail, lip licks, and turn away, he was trying to tell you to slow your roll.
My favorite written resource for understanding dog body language is from the American Kennel Club. Also check out Rosie Schurman's article,“What is Your Dog Trying to Tell You,” right here on this very blog! For visual learners, here is a helpful video from Fear Free Happy Homes. There are plenty of great resources out there to read up on; the more you learn, the more signs you’ll see were there along!
Don’t Force It
You’re a bit embarrassed but ready for redemption. Your friend asks you to walk in a wide loop around them and approach with your body angled away from Rocky. Okay, easy enough. You are now an arm's length away from your friend and she offers you a handful of stinky dog treats to toss to Rocky. You got this. After a few minutes, Rocky loosens up his body and comes to give you an official greeting. He is now eagerly performing for those treats you have. Resist the urge to pat his head, stand over him, or go in for a hug. Move forward at Rocky's pace, engaging in several consent checks!
Know Better, Do Better
Now that you know what to look for, what can go wrong, and how to redeem yourself, you can do better the next time you approach a dog that’s not so sure about you!