10 ways to ensure safe encounters between dogs & people

I live with two of the world’s cutest dogs. Harper is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who loves everyone, and Gemma is a tiny longhaired Chihuahua with a mostly toothless grin. Wherever we go — and we go lots of places — my husband and I are bombarded with requests from children and adults alike who want to pet, cuddle, or hold our dogs. The girls love the attention, and we enjoy sharing them with people. That frequently includes gently educating them about how to interact with dogs.

You may also have adorable dogs with a large fan base or simply enjoy meeting other people’s dogs. In either case, these tips will help you ensure a safe encounter:

Face time. Dogs like playing bitey-face with each other, but we don’t want them playing that game with us. Never let anyone, especially a child, go face to face with your dog, no matter how bombproof and loving he is. Explain that your dog would rather have a nice scratch on the chest than a lip-smacking kiss.

Hold the hugs. A hug is a pleasurable greeting for people, but it makes a dog feel trapped. A dog who is leaning away or leaning back from an encounter is uncomfortable. Respect his desire for distance.

The eyes have it. Don’t stare at a dog — that’s rude in canine culture — but look at his eyes to get a read on his demeanor. A relaxed dog has an open, droopy eye; but back off if Baxter is showing the whites of the eyes (also known as whale eye).

Loose lips say it all. Calm, happy dogs have a relaxed, open mouth and jaw, but tight-lipped dogs are irritated or uncomfortable.

Body language. A dog with a rigid body and tight muscles is trouble waiting to happen. Give him some space.

Tattle tail. Just because his tail is wagging doesn’t mean a dog is happy. A slow, stiff wag from a tail held upward signals potential aggression; a tucked tail is a sign of fear. Friendly dogs display a nice, slow wag with the tail held out at medium height: not too high, not too low. Pay attention to the tail and give a dog a way out of the situation if he displays discomfort with the encounter.

Hear, hear. We all know how sensitive a dog’s ears are. Protect them from aural assault in the form of high-pitched squeals by suggesting that Max likes to be spoken to in a softer tone of voice.

Four on the floor. Teach your dog to sit for petting. Even small dogs can unbalance toddlers or seniors by jumping up on them.

Treat time. Who doesn’t love giving a dog a treat? They’re so appreciative. Ask people to offer the treat on the flat of their palm to preclude any accidental nips from an excited pooch.

Holding pattern. If you permit people to pick up your small dog or puppy, always explain first how to do it. It’s surprising how many people don’t know to support a dog’s rear. Often times, they let the hind legs dangle while holding a dog or puppy, which can be painful and may injure the dog’s back. Tell them to put one hand beneath her front legs and support her rear end with the other.

What’s most important is both your dog and the person he’s meeting enjoy the experience. Be your dog’s advocate. He’ll love you all the more for it, and his new friends will be safer for it.