Have you ever tried to stop someone from approaching your fearful/nervous dog and no matter what you said, they still approached? This scenario has happened to me countless times over the years. It seemed that no matter what I came up with to say, it went in one ear and out the other. I could only resort to pulling my dog away, changing direction or body blocking the petting attempt on the part of the stranger.
The reason people do this is that it is hard wired in us to greet others face to face, chest to chest. This is called a “ventral-ventral” greeting, thanks to our primate DNA. It is simply hard wired in us to address each other this way; facing forward with a hand outstretched. Sound familiar? We all do it. What is most crazy is that people will still do this, even if: you tell them not to, the dog is visibly uncomfortable, or the dog is barking/growling. People will STILL approach facing totally forward with an extended hand. So the next time you get ready to curse someone out, just remember; genetics made them do it.
Approaching other people while ignoring the front of them and burying our heads in their butts is certainly not the way humans do things. We all know this is how canines conduct normal, polite greetings. Instead, humans choose to go for the end-all-be-all dog greeting: FACE FISTING. It is my personal belief that people do this because they think that greeting the dog this way will make the dog less wary of them, BUT they hold their fingers back just in case the dog wanted to bite. So there may be apprehension or fear of the dog, but again, our genetics override it, making us face the dog and extend ourselves thinking that this will somehow appear less threatening. All trainers know it is just the opposite. We are so wired to face each other and extend ourselves to one another, that even the fear of being bitten is not enough to stop this approach. We just ball up those precious little fingers.
It actually seems to make people more uneasy NOT to address the dog at all. Even though this is the best thing anyone can do when meeting an unknown dog, happy-go-lucky or not. It’s as if we MUST do something. We are not comfortable just standing there letting the dog smell and analyze us. We must show the dog who we are by extending ourselves. “I’m letting him smell me” people always say, as it looks like they are getting ready to punch the dog in the face. Actually what you are doing is putting an unnecessary amount of body pressure on the dog which he may perceive as a threat. Dogs can smell way better than we can. We all know that, so why do we think we have to come within millimeters of their face in order for them to analyze who we are? It’s that good ol’ primate lineage again.
Putting your fist in a dog’s face is rude, confrontational and totally unnecessary when greeting a new dog. The more awareness we spread, the more comfortable dogs will be, with fewer chances of people being bitten. Join me on this mission and help spread the word: Be mindful of your primate genetics and try to control it around dogs. STOP CANINE FACE FISTING and other awkward dog greetings!