Exchanging business cards: Letting dogs mingle
Meeting here at the fire hydrant, or anywhere else, gives us a great opportunity to discuss proper (and safe) pet etiquette.
Should you allow your pet to exchange business cards with each new animal you might encounter on your outing? The answer is a firm maybe.
First off, let's discuss how dogs greet and identify each other. They sniff, and not just sniff noses. Dogs sniff butts and other disgusting places, a familiarity that would land their humans in jail should we try introducing ourselves in that fashion.
The scents emitted by urine and anal glands tell a dog's position on the dominance scale. That is also why dogs sniff, and mark, all the fire hydrants, posts, trees and tires they encounter. These are the billboards of the dog world. Your dog is not being perverted, he is just on Facebook.
One of my key responsibilities with Angel, my Leader Dog puppy, is to socialize her with people and other dogs. To succeed as a guide dog, Angel needs to be out going and friendly. She can show no aggression toward people or canines. But she also needs to stay focused on her guide work, not trying to interact with every dog or person she may meet.
I started Angel's socialization by introducing her to people and dogs that I knew -- my family and my dog pack. I know the behaviors of my dogs and I know their vaccination and medical histories. The chances of them injuring Angel or passing on a disease were slim. Angel is by nature a submissive dog showing no interest in climbing the pack hierarchy. She won't argue over toys or food, not even with the cats. Her initiation into my pack was quite easy.
When Angel's vaccinations were complete and she had ample time to build immunity, I began taking her places that I knew required all dogs in attendance to be current on vaccinations. Angel attended day care and obedience classes. She was allowed to greet and play with a variety of sizes and ages of dogs, dogs that I knew were healthy and well adjusted. These were dogs that I had selected for Angel. And these were dogs that helped further Angel's pack manners.
At Leader Dog puppy outings, Angel gets to socialize with other Leader Dog puppies, but not every other dog that may happen by. When it comes to the great unknown, dogs I don't know with people I don't know, Angel is not allowed to meet and greet.
Canine diseases, just as with human diseases like H1N1, are passed by airborne particles -- coughing, sneezing and sharing a water bowl. Others are passed by fecal contact, sniffing or licking another dog's elimination pile, or by your dog "stepping in it," then licking the offending paw to clean it.
Internal parasites easily transfer from dog to dog in this manner. Fleas and ear mites will readily "jump ship" from one pet to another when they are in close proximity. As we cannot vaccinate for everything out there, I help protect Angel by limiting her contact with the unknown.
Aggressive dogs present a different set of worries. Most aggressive dogs telegraph their lack of manners through body language -- stiff forward posture, ears and hackles up, tail flagging, perhaps a curled lip or an audible growl. Give those dogs ample room.
As your bond with your dog grows, you will learn to watch your own dog's body language she reacts to the strange dog. Leader Dog puppy Gundy was a master at reading canine body language and in turn telling me if a strange dog was safe to approach. I used Gundy in many class and training sessions to help teach others how to read a dog's intentions.
Other dogs don't telegraph their intentions as clearly. Yellow Lab, Amos, is very well mannered around people and other dogs, until a dog strange to him reaches out to sniff his face. One quick, low growl is followed by an equally quick snap to the offending nose.
As with many questions, the answer to our business card exchange dilemma is not definitive. No matter how well mannered your dog is, "on leash" is a must when out in public. You, as pack leader, need to control who your dog is allowed to meet and romp with. Don't allow anyone, with or without a dog, to approach or pet your dog without your express permission. You are in charge of protecting your dog's space or safety zone. Yes, you really can pick your dog's friends!
Your comments and training questions are welcome, e-mail Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.