Saturday, May 22, 2010

Don't Stare at Me

As a little brown dog, I think I can help you mind your manners and smooth canine-human relations. Some of my tips for canine etiquette may be well-known - especially if you are a dog owner. But I am amazed how many folks at the dog park still don't understand the basics of manners and common sense.

Let's start with eye contact. American humans are big into eye contact. "Look me in the eye!" parents tell their children.

Let me be clear. Don't stare at the dog. It is domineering. It is intimidating. And it is just plain rude.

If you have a dog handy - preferably one that won't bite you. Try staring intently at her eyes.  She will likely blink or look away within seconds. If you keep staring she will squirm and maybe whimper - or try to distract you with play bow or a lick. Or she might growl or snap. Depends on the dog and your relationship. But my point is, the dog doesn't like an intense stare.

(Now try staring at a cat. What does that gaze MEAN??)

Generally, when two dogs meet and aren't looking for a fight, they would never stare at each other. Or the clearly dominant dog would do - just to enforce who's the boss.

That said, some herding dogs can be tough for fellow dogs to sort out as they are bred to use a "strong eye".  I don't like it. Sheep don't like it either and often comply as soon the herder turns their laser gaze on them. (Bitzer demonstrates).

When I meet herding dogs at the dog park they often stare right at me which makes passing them on the path a dicey business. I am sometimes forced to approach turning my whole body diagonally to avoid the stare. Even play bows don't get through to them. Consequently, most herding dogs make me uncomfortable.

And most herding dogs aren't much fun to play with anyway - they just want to herd. Keep in mind, herding is just modified predatory behavior. I will not be herded.

Dogs do spend a LOT of time watching people. Watching is different. And most dogs do stare to beg. But that's completely different. Begging eyes are pleading eyes -- not domineering eyes.

In general, dog eyes are on you whether you are holding a biscuit or not. Our world depends on reading people correctly. So our eyes follow you constantly to keep up to date on your mood and your plans. But, mind you, we aren't staring to be in charge. Or, if we are, you had better watch out.

So here's the deal: When you meet a dog, turn your head, keep your gaze moving, keep it light. And for goodness sakes, don't lean over me and stick your face in mine to say hi. Don't you try looking into MY soul. We won't bond that way. If a mutual butt sniff makes you uncomfortable, give a scratch to my back or ribs. If I like you, I might even let you scratch my belly.

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