You meet a new dog.
You want to make friends.
So you walk over in a friendly way and stick out your hand for a nice sniff.
Bad move, human.
In fact, it’s downright rude.
That’s one of the surprising tips that emerged from a presentation that drew 60 people on Wednesday to the Payson Senior Center. Sherry Woodard, animal behavior consultant with the Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah talked patiently for nearly two hours, determined to help people who love dogs help the dogs they love.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates that between perhaps 4 million cats and dogs are euthanized every year. Tragically, many lose their lives simply because humans have labeled them unsociable or even dangerous.
Woodard came to Payson with the support of the Humane Society of Central Arizona and awareness and education.
She said humans who mishandle even simple interactions with dogs can stress the animals, causing a dog to bite, growl and show other aggressive behaviors.
“It’s interesting that when dogs are out in public, people believe they can just come up to them, like they do to a pregnant woman and put their hand on them,” said Woodard.
Most people walk up to a dog, towering over them. They lean over and stick their hand out for the dog to sniff. But in a dog’s world, such a greeting invades their space and makes them feel helpless.
“They could easily get agitated and bite,” said Woodard.
In a handout published on the Web site www.doggiedrawings.net, six pictures depicted what not to do when greeting a dog.
• Don’t lean over the dog and stick your hand in his face.
• Don’t lean over the dog and stick a hand on top of his head.
• Don’t hug or grab a dog.
• Don’t stare a dog in the eye — in the dog world, this is an hostile gesture.
• Don’t squeal or shout in his face.
• Don’t grab his head and kiss it — dogs consider this an invasion of space.
In addition to stressing out a dog, Woodard said such greetings teach a dog bad behavior when meeting other dogs. If a dog imitates humans and stares in another dog’s face and bares its teeth in a “smile,” the message in dog speak is: “I’m about to attack you.”
Doesn’t make for a great first impression.
Instead, a polite, dog-sensitive human meeting a dog for the first time will avoid eye contact, let the dog approach in its own time, and keep either their side or back to the dog.
Once the dog agrees to meet, pet or stroke him on the side of his face or body — or on his back.
Interacting with a dog in this way teaches them how to act appropriately with other dogs as well.
Woodard said many dogs do not know how to play with other dogs. Worse, some dogs get labeled dog intolerant.
Woodard told the story of one woman she worked with in San Francisco who took her dog on midnight walks just to avoid having her dog go after other dogs on the path.
Woodard had this woman use Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT). The training seeks to identify why a dog reacts in socially unacceptable ways, then helps meet the dogs needs in other ways.
“If we wait for things to happen, it reinforces habits — we have to re-create experiences,” said Woodard.
In the case of the San Francisco dog, Woodard had the pooch meet other dogs the owner trusted one-on-one until her dog could go into public. “It took them a long time, but I’m real proud of them,” she said.
The BAT Web site (www.functionalrewards .com) has videos to show the nuances of the training and sells training tools.
Woodard said it all takes time and a lot of patience, but she has taken dogs traumatized by Hurricane Katrina that at first meeting bit her and turned them into sweet creatures that now have a forever home.
“I don’t keep them in training, I make it part of life,” said Woodard.