Building a better relationship with canines

Many people see a dog, think “Oh she’s so cute,” and then want to immediately pet her without thinking about what the dog might want. Not all dogs like to be petted by a complete stranger. Some do want attention and love from anyone that is willing, while others tolerate it, and some will let you know it is just not OK to touch me. Think about it. Do you like to be touched by a complete stranger?

Next time you are out, watch two dogs greet each other. What do you notice? They often sniff each other’s butts. Rarely do they greet each other eye to eye like humans. Scent is their primary way of understanding their environment. This doesn’t mean you have to sniff a dog’s butt; however, it is important to understand the way they naturally interact with each other.

There is a proper way of interacting with a new dog. First, always ask the owner if it is OK and don’t assume anything based on breed, etc. Second, put your had out for a sniff. Know that direct eye contact, standing over a dog and petting the top of the dog’s head may be threatening to many dogs. Overt indicators that a dog wants to interact with a human in a friendly manner: the ears are forward in a neutral position, the eyes are soft, the mouth/lips are relaxed, the tail is in neutral position or carried over the back. Dogs that wag their tails are not necessarily friendly. Tail wagging can occur before an aggressive attack. If you are not sure of the intention of the dog, let the dog approach you. This way the dog can make the choice if he or she wants to be petted. Petting under the chin is much less threatening than on the head.

By following these basic steps, you can build a better relationship with your canine companion and every canine you meet.


Ahwatukee Foothills resident Beth Friedman is owner of Canine Companion Consulting, which conducts in-home dog training. Canine Companion Consulting’s mission is to enhance the dog and human relationship by assisting humans to better understand dog culture and behavior, which results in a happy, well trained dog. Reach her at (602) 790-9430, or visit

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