To continue on with the last blog post about Freedom of Choice, let’s look at how we greet dogs. This is a great snippet from Eureka Dog Services (New Zealand) 

Use Your Manners! The Sniff Test – Stop Doing That!

The sniff test is a badly ingrained habit that society has been taught, without a clear understanding of what they’re actually doing. 

  • When you reach out towards a dog, you are using body pressure AT them, giving them no time to assess whether you are safe and whether they require further investigation to pick up your information. You are forcing an interaction of a relationship that hasn’t had time to develop. To some dogs, this is quite rude and the reason a lot of dogs snap at or bite people. This can cause a lot of behavioral issues because of layered stress due to forced interactions.
  • If they are on lead, dogs have nowhere to go if they are sensitive to spatial pressure, so they can end up shutting down, shying away or snapping at your hand to make you back off. This is an example of how a dog is now using pressure to turn off pressure and make you back off so they aren’t so stressed.
  • People think by offering your hand it can give the dog time to sniff to know you’re friendly… they can sniff without being forced to sniff your hand. Their noses are far more superior than ours and they don’t need close contact forced upon them to smell you.
  • Some dogs might not want to know you. You have no relationship with them and that’s perfectly fine. They aren’t your dog so you don’t need to touch them or steal pats for your own satisfaction.

If you are meeting a dog that is new to you, what should you do? 

  • Ask the owner if you can interact with their dog. Not all people want strangers touching their dogs, and not all dogs are people friendly. 
  • Stand up straight and relaxed, with your hands at your side.
  • Ignore the dog and talk to the owner. 
  • Don’t stare at the dog and don’t try to force an interaction by going in for a pat. 
  • If the dog wants to know you, it will come up to you & sniff around. Usually they will move away and then come back for a second sniffathon. Some dogs will bunt your hands & wag their tails, which are good signs that you’re likely an accepted new friend. Give them a few slow pats on their side, under their chin or down their back (NOT THEIR HEAD) and then stop. Is the dog happy? Has it accepted your interaction? This will determine whether you can give it more pats.

This is a more stress free option for dogs and a reason why in consultations we can develop a good level of trust, especially with fearful dogs and aggressive dogs, without a bunch of negative side effects from forced interactions.

Remember, your dog always has the right to choose. Respect their choice. There is nothing wrong with telling someone, “My dog says not today, but thank you for asking!”


Below is a great visual helper especially for kids from the Family Dog Magazine.