I love my dog. Really. But I ask a lot of him for his species. We unfairly expect dogs to understand our intentions when our method of communicating is so different from theirs. I ask that he accept my adoring eye contact. I often hug him. I cuddle him as if he is a baby. These are not things that dogs, in general, as a species, appreciate. I talk to him like he can understand language; nuanced and particular. We show our teeth when we are happy, the exact opposite of what they do.
For a dog eye contact can be threatening. Between dogs, direct staring can be an invitation to fight. So look away from a dog that is feeling uncomfortable in your presence. Dogs prefer to greet one another side on, and sniff out each other’s rear ends. A dog that barges, head first into another’s space, is asking for trouble. Rude begets rude.
A wagging tail has been taught to children to signal a happy dog. But really a wagging tail is merely an invitation to engage. You need to assess the type of wag. The only truly safe wag is the windmill, whole bum wag; the one where the dog might be attempting to hula hoop, if he knew what such a thing was. The stiff tip wag of the upright tail can mean a fight is on its way. Beware the dog that approaches, ears forward, with the tail erect, like it has been stiffened by wire.
A teddy bear face invites the human to grasp the dog by the cheeks and bring it in close. Kiss it even. Our dog has grown up with our very forward advances. He has been well-socialised to endure the human embrace. What concessions does he make to his own comfort to accommodate our need to smother?
But children don’t often see such teddy bear-faced dogs as from another species. To them they are just like us, but fur-coated and made for canoodling. No one has taught them to stand back and see if the dog comes to them. Instead they rush up, arms flapping, squealing like prey and heading for the face. They fling arms around shoulders and over heads. Pat pat pat. No wonder so many are bitten. It is surprising that more are not. Just as we teach children at school the dangers of strangers and how to cross the road, perhaps we need to instruct on how to approach, or rather how not to approach, a species we have so surrounded ourselves with. I suspect that there is more likelihood of danger from a tethered dog than the chance of abduction from a stranger and yet we seem to let our children go on blissfully unaware of how to safely greet and engage with dogs. Instead we expect our canines to know our intentions are innocent and just submit to our embrace. We have unfairly asked so much of them….