When you get home or pick your dog up from daycare, you’re most likely going to be greeted by a happy dog that’s uninhibited in showing their joy. That’s why we love them. A jump in the air or on you, a bark or squeal, running aimlessly in circles or through the house, all done with a big happy smile.
According to the Huffington Post:
Many experts believe that dogs have learned to smile because they’ve seen humans do the same or because we reward them for doing so. At any rate, it usually means your dog is contented and happy. The doggy smile is also known as a submissive grin, or a sign that your dog wants to appease you.”
That’s your dog, the one you know inside and out. But what about other dogs? Have you been in a situation when you see a dog that you don’t know “smiling” at you? Is it a smile or a snarl? The chance meeting between you and a strange dog can be a complicated situation. That dog does not know you and you don’t know him. What you both have in common is the unknown. You might both be thinking, “Is he nice? Is he scared? What are his intentions?”
While you may be looking at the ears, tail, eyes or lips… you’re being looked at too.
Are you tall or short? Male or female? Are you wearing accessories? Is your voice loud or soft? Are you fearful or curious? What do you smell like? Are your pupils dilated? (Yes, they actually access that). Do you look like someone in his present or past life? Is that someone a kind or abusive person? As you can see, they have a lot more to assess and a lot more to be fearful of than you do.
Normally a dog that’s wagging, submissive, head bowed, ears up and eyes relaxed is smiling at you and wants to be petted. A dog with tail stiff or tucked, body stiff, head at attention, ears back and showing teeth. That’s a snarl and he wants you to back off.
In general, never approach a dog you do not know. I’ve actually had dogs give me all the right signs then bite when I reached out. Ask the owner if the dog is friendly (no matter what signs he’s giving) and if it’s okay to approach them. When given permission, hold your hand out with palm down so you can be sniffed, do not reach over their head, crouch low, look small and unintimidating, and use a soft gentle voice.
Once that dog realizes you are a cool human, you may have just made a friend for life.