Making Canine Friends
In all the years I spent in the pet industry, I have only been attacked by one dog.
Early in my career I had been walking past a Dog Trainer, Donna and her German Shepherd, Rika when I remembered that I wanted to ask Donna a question. I turned abruptly and took a few steps toward the handler. As I approached her I spoke loudly over the noise of a crowded retail store and simultaneously outstretched one of my arms to greet Rika.
In the next instant I felt a hard thud to my chest. I looked down to peer into focused, protective canine eyes and felt completely powerless. I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat as I felt her large paws against my sides. I fell back in fear which only further motivated her to posture against me.
Donna was quick to control her protective pup. Luckily the dog was equipped with a basket muzzle and aside from a startling hit to the chest, I walked away unscathed. After my heart rate returned to a normal cadence and my mind cleared, I couldn’t help but take some responsibility for the occurrence.
Concerned that she was not social enough to be in a crowded store I observed her body language and behavior as she interacted with other people. My observations prompted me to think about how human beings make use of senses differently than dogs.
For us, our primary sense is sight. We often subscribe to a “You have to see it to believe it”, mentality. When I’m home alone and hear a noise somewhere in the distance, I might sit up and look around for the source. Unless I actually see the cause of the sound, I’ll dismiss it entirely and forget it ever happened. We heavily rely on sight along with a need to immediately touch that which we see, making it all the more real and helping us to define it.
With dogs, it seems their primary sense is smell.
While watching Rika I noticed a consistent pattern of behavior when meeting dogs and pet parents. When dogs meet, they sniff each other. When we meet dogs, they sniff us. Anything we offer them, they smell prior to accepting it.
I recall a time a few years back when I came home to a dark house. Upon entering, the three dogs that comprised our canine security system barked a deafening alarm through the darkness. Once inside, I turned on a light. My black Lab, Sobek stood ten feet away, staring directly at me, yet continued to bark.
Above his barks, I yelled, “Sobek, it’s me!”
My Lab sniffed the air. His barking now gone, his thick, black tail whipped back and forth at the air happily as he approached me. As I rubbed his chest, he licked my hand.
Sobek’s instinct of alarming the pack of an intruder was so prominent that even a visual of me was not enough to alter his warning barks. However, once he caught my familiar scent, he felt at ease. With taste being the secondary sense to smell, he then licked my hand.
I watched as pet parents allowed Rika to approach them. They held treats in their hands and offered it after Rika gently nudged their fists.
Over the years in the pet industry, I have encountered hundreds if not thousands of dogs at weekend events and visits to shelters. Upon meeting them for the first time, I allowed them to approach me, sniff my scent and then nudge me with their nose or lick my hand or face. Once they displayed a favorable reaction to my presence, it was then I offered a treat or chest scratch.
This technique kept the muzzles out of my chest and made for a favorable dog encounter. To me, it appeared that pooch kisses are used for both shows of affection and identification purposes.
I learned a valuable lesson from Rika with regard to how to safely approach dogs, especially those outside of their normal environment.
Several years later I met yet another German Shepherd named, Rika. During a casual conversation with her pet parent I learned that Rika is a Germanic name that means powerful protector. No argument there.