We often talk about ‘setting up for success’, and if you don’t know what this means, it basically means that we don’t give our dogs a chance to fail. We know and respect their boundaries and we only push them slowly and with plenty of reward. These points are definitely the owner’s responsibility to plan, though good for you to know and understand.
Key point number one is to meet in a neutral spot. A dog is much more likely to feel threatened in a space that they would otherwise consider ‘safe’, so this includes any well-known houses, gardens, café’s, etc etc, you get the point.
Key point number two is keep moving! Did you know that just as we do, dogs experience Fight or Flight reactions? So, imagine their emotion as a ball of energy inside the dog’s brain. If you’re greeting a friend and standing still with their dog, they have no vice for that energy, which may lead to frustration, panic, and fear. If you keep walking, albeit at a slow and calming pace, they can focus that energy on moving and processing new smells, sights, and sounds all whilst getting used to your presence.
Key point number three is probably the most difficult of all. Pretend the dog doesn’t exist. Try not to touch them, look at them, feed them or talk to them (for the time being that is). We want the pup in question to have the chance to really understand you. They need to process your body language, your smell, and your general aura before they decide how they feel. Once they choose to interact with you positively (Ie, without barking, tongue to nose flicks, or any other nervous behaviour), try to respond in a manner consistent with their energy. Only when the dog seems entirely calm in your presence should you consider taking the party indoors.
For example, after walking with Abi and Perseus for 15 minutes, he finally chooses to sniff your leg. The right thing to do here is to continue to ignore him, as he is still sussing you out and he needs to do that without being forced into communication. However, another 15 minutes on, he notices that you have an entire bagful of juicy watermelon and does his perfect sit…Then you are able to match his energy with a calm ‘good boy’, a treat for his nice behaviour, and then continue on walking. The aim here is that he will realise that great things happen when you’re around and he will start to really want to hang out with you.
Many moons down the line, he may even incite play with you, show you his coolest toys and ask you for scratches when he is ready!