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Getting a Small Dog to Like You

Simple tricks to make a small dog feel safe

It pays to be nice to Verizon phone personnel. Over the years I’ve been rewarded with easy-to-remember phone numbers. Repairmen have come to my home, played with the dogs, and three have used my services—one came to a group dog training class and two others drove over an hour to my training studio with their dog and families. My in? Aside from being friendly, I ask a very simple question--Are you a dog lover? And then the conversation begins.

Yesterday was no different. I had a little billing problem so I called and got Bill. Yes, Bill in billing. Within five minutes, Bill in billing refunded my late fee and changed my calling plan to one that will save me over $200 a year. In return, I solved his dog problem. Bill’s problem was sad and sweet--he is a very large man who loves little dogs. But at an enthusiastic and impressive 6’7,” Bill terrifies all but the largest and boldest of dogs.

I asked Bill to describe what happens when he meets a dog. I could hear the excitement in his booming voice but all of his friendly overtures were terrifying to dogs.

I asked a few pertinent questions:

Do you stare at the dog? Well, yeah! I want to make eye contact!

Do you approach head on? Definitely! I want to appear friendly!

Do you speak as you approach? Yes, I try to use my quiet, gently voice but they just keep backing up.

Do you follow as they back up? Try to pick them up? Yes and yes.

Oh dear. Big, sweet Bill was unintentionally scaring the bejesus out of every dog he met.

“Bill,” I said, “Imagine someone approaching you who was much, much bigger.” I realize there are not a lot of people bigger than Bill, but this was an imagination exercise. “Imagine that person looming over you, staring into your face and speaking in an unknown language. Then imagine this giant being reach out ... and picked you up off the ground.” Poor Bill. He felt like an ogre.

I gave him a list of cardinal rules to use when approaching any dog but especially his beloved little ones.

- Always approach small or unfamiliar dogs hip-to-head, or even backwards if the dog is nervous, but never straight on. Dogs don’t approach one another head-on unless forced to on lead, as it such a direct approach is perceived as confrontational. Even humans when meeting or approaching each other stop at a respectful distance or extend a hand to signal peace: racing up into a dog's space is disrespectful to the dogs though generally not intended.

- Hold out your palm up 3” in front of the dog’s nose. If there is a treat handy, place one in it. If the dog approaches to sniff you he/she is open to a greeting; pet the dog under to up—never from above.

- Although vocalization may sound inviting to you, your unfamiliar tone may startle a dog until he/she gets to know you. Stay calm and quiet until the dog has fully accepted you.

- Never stare at a dog when meeting them. Some will perceive assertiveness, others confrontation play—but wait to make eye contact until you’ve become friends.

Bill couldn’t wait to get home and try out his new skills on his neighbor’s Sheltie. Good luck, Big Bill!  

Sarah Hodgson September 10, 2012 at 12:26 AM
What's your experience with small dogs. I've often found using a cup of treats the dog enjoys can spark some remarkable trust! If someone handed me an ice cream cone and told me how pretty I was I'd like them immediately too! I like the new product, the Lickety Stick too. Dogs love it and it keeps people back just a few paces. The lickable treat should be introduced initially from below the dogs chin not above- as an airborne missile flying down at you can be scary no matter what's shooting out of it!

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