People have communicated with dogs for thousands of years. Recent studies have shown that even puppies are better able than adult wolves, to follow human hand gestures. Indeed, dogs are thought to be the most sensitive species to human communication. This trait is possibly why dogs were domesticated in the first place and also why they have integrated into our societies so well. Despite this rich history of interspecies to and fro, people and dogs still often run into issues trying to get their messages across.
Like the body language between people, reading signals between dogs and their owner becomes largely unconscious but for the new owner or non-owner here are a few of the basics:
It might be the cutest, biggest or strangest pooch you’ve ever seen but being the absolute focus of attention from a complete stranger is enough to put most people off and it’s the same for dogs. Its’ best to engage the dogs owner first, allow the dog to get an impression of you at his own pace. It’s also a good opportunity to ask the owner if Rusty is up for a visit.
Don’t Rush at/in
Following from point 1, avoid directly approaching the dog, forcing the meeting onto them. Sidle (cool word) up and allow them to initiate the interaction.
If Rusty is inquisitive allow him to sniff you. Try to keep movements slow and predictable. If it’s a small dog then you can crouch but don’t loom over them at the same time.
If you need to pat (and it’s not obligatory) then remember it’s rude to pat on the head. Most dogs will put up with it but really there are plenty of other areas that are a less confrontational, sides,back and shoulders are fine.
Just because dogs can hear high pitched sounds doesn’t mean that's how you need to talk to them. A high pitched voice tends to excite dogs, making them more reactive and harder to control for their owners.
If at any time you feel uncomfortable then don’t force the meeting, just slowly and calmly retrace your steps. Dogs can have off days, bad memories, be sore and sorry or might just need some space that day.
Special Note - Children often do THE EXACT OPPOSITE of the recommendations above, staring at, rushing in and jumping on strange dogs, all while screeching at a pitch that would make Flipper wince. Children should be taught how to interact properly with dogs AND supervised at all times with them.