As any good dog walker knows, first impressions matter. The first time you meet a dog, they are reading your body language much better than most humans do and paying close attention to the way you behave. At Moto Perro, I have been introduced to many dogs in a short period of time, and it usually proceeds in a similar fashion. From the first introduction to building trust, here are some of the things you should do when meeting a new dog that you are going to work with.
1. Body Language
Canines are masters at reading body language. As animals with no verbal language, they rely on body language as a primary way to communicate how they are feeling and in turn read other people and dogs. Studies have shown that approximately 55% of human communication is done through body language alone, and that is with complex languages to convey our thoughts. So, when meeting a dog, especially one that is nervous or suspicious, it is important to keep this is mind. Don't shrink away from dogs that run towards you, because this conveys weakness, and it is important to establish that you, the walker, are the one in charge. At the same time, don't be overbearing or stand in a threatening way; fear is not how you control a dog. Instead, remain relaxed and avoid tensing up. If you are simply firm in your position and smooth in your actions, the dog will pick up on this every time.
While dogs can't understand all that we say, they can read tone surprisingly well. Think of your tone as more important than your words; you could say whatever you want in a relaxing voice and the dog will perceive the relaxed nature of your words. Don't speak too softly or too harshly. As with body language, being calm yet firm is the best way to get a dog to listen.
3. Go Slow
If you have never met the animal before, remember that it may take a little bit for them to warm up to you. Of course, all dogs are different, so this mainly applies to those that are overly suspicious or nervous about leaving their owners. Getting frustrated won't help, because the dog will just trust you less if you become irritated. As a Moto Perro dog walker, I have found that it is most helpful to show a dog who is fearful or aggressive that you mean it no harm and that its own fear/aggression does not affect you. Ignoring the doggy and just trying to walk it is a big mistake, because then it may feel like it is being carried off by a stranger, which is obviously anxiety-inducing.