For those of us that want to ensure our dogs are well socialized throughout the puppy years and into adulthood, knowing how dogs politely greet one another is important information. It helps us keep our dogs safe, secure, and happy when faced with the unknown. So how do we know when our dogs are greeting one another in a healthy way?
In this blog, I'm going to go over some various dog-to-dog greetings, what they look like, and what is behind the physical information our dogs are giving us when engaging in good greeting behavior.
Take a look at the two dogs in the center of the attached picture. The ears are drawn back and relaxed. The lips are long in the muzzle of both dogs. And the eyes are partially closed (squinting). Their tails are waving gently to and fro, and not held straight up in the air or down between their back legs - they're at a sort of half-way position. You'll notice (and this is important) that the dogs are not directly in front of one another. Instead, they are slightly off-side to ensure there is no misinterpretation of this particular greeting between them. The paw lift on the dog to the right is also indicative of a friendly hello!
This sideways greeting is both polite and friendly. Everything here is as it should be. The dogs are not in a face-to-face or head-on position. The eyes are narrow, and they are not staring one another down. The tails (though quite short) appear relaed. Ears are low and relaxed, as are the jaws on both dogs. There is no tension in body, face, or movement. This wonderful body language indicates that neither dog is threatened by the other and represents a healthy, happy same-species greeting.
The picture to the left is something a little different. Notice the rounded back on the smaller dog, and the face-to-face greeting between them both. The smaller dog has tail tucked between the legs, indicating insecurity about the larger dog whose posture is much more direct. Chances are this scenario won't result in any reactivity from the smaller dog, but it is quite obviously not comfortable with the situation. Also notice the position of the leash on the small dog, up and over its head. The dog has no room to move, or anywhere to go. This lack of autonomy can also be part and partial to the discomfort the small dog feels.
There's no getting around it. Having a solid understanding of the body language our dogs use to communicate with one another and with us is a critical aspect of being a good dog owner. Ensuring our dogs not be overwhelmed by the social situations they find themselves in, and not forcing them to engage in activities they are clearly uncomfortable with, are important to the development of a well-rounded, secure animal. Watch your dog, listen to the cues he is giving you. You may find that your dog tells you more than you ever realized, while never saying a single word.
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, and Decoding the Dog Park.