February 11, 2010


Humans think that every dog likes the same things especially when it comes to saying hello… or even goodbye, for that matter. Well, I’m here to tell you that assumption is false. Often on this blog, I have explored how dogs are uniquely different, but today I’d like to focus on one aspect — greetings.

Contrary to popular opinion, dogs don’t like to be petted on top of their heads. Sure, some are okay with it, but others see it as a possible threat. I, for one, am not comfortable with strangers petting the top of my head, but even when I kindly back away, people come straight at me as if it’s a competition between the two of us to see who will win — the head petter or the head petting avoider (me!).

The next thing humans do is put their hand out to have dogs smell them. Dogs have a powerful sense of smell (much stronger than humans) and it’s been estimated that a dog can smell you once you are within a fourteen foot range. No need to stick your hands out. Now, while I’m not fond of head petting, I’m okay with sniffing the human hand. What bugs me is that humans aren’t comfortable letting the sniff be the last encounter. Quickly, they move their hand to go straight for my head and that’s when I back away and that competition thing starts again — they step forward to try again, I step back to avoid it.

Take the dogs we walked today. Ollie, for instance. Every time we pick him up, we can see him waiting on the couch as he looks at the window. He races through the house, out through the dog door, and bounds his way down the stairs where he springs like a bunny at the gate.

Gretchen’s students are often at the playground across the street and they wait in gleeful anticipation for Ollie to come for a visit. When he sees them, he gets excited, but then crouches down really low because he knows all these little hands are going to maul him.  They say hello to me and a few even pet me, but most of them just want to put their hands on Ollie’s curly, curly mop. He doesn’t seem to mind. If the students tried to treat me like that, I’d probably cower behind Gretchen’s legs. Way too much energy for me.

Gemma, on the other hand, wants nothing more than for everyone she meets to say hello to her. She bounces at the end of the leash all the while pulling Gretchen toward the human hoping that the human will stop and notice the bouncing, pulling, eager Gemma. If the human doesn’t stop, Gemma gets really agitated and barks at them. When we’re walking Ollie at the same time, Ollie barks too because he wants to impress his girlfriend Gemma.

I’m not sure she’s very impressed, she likes her “friends” a bit rougher than what Ollie can muster, but he keeps trying!

When we drop Ollie off at his house, he has another way of saying goodbye. He races into the house through his dog door and in a split second, turns around and exits the house again where he waits on the porch for the dog treats he knows Gretchen will leave for him.

When we leave Gemma at her house, she jumps up on the couch by the living room window and stares at us as we march down the stairs. The look on her face is something between confusion (is it over already?) and sad longing (will you ever come back?) followed by a quick shift to, “Hey, let’s play!” and then she turns to whomever is home and starts spinning. Tough to wear that girl out, let me tell you!

Rosie is, dare I say, a lot like me in many ways. We’re both a little skittish, but Rosie is a bit more drawn to humans than I am. Well, I love the humans I know, but strangers? Not so much. I need about 5-10 times to really meet someone before they are in my circle of trusted friends. Rosie, on the other hand, likes it when Gretchen runs into strangers on their walks. Still, being petted on her head is not her favorite thing either.

Today, Gretchen worked on that with Rosie as well as teaching Rosie the beginning steps to playing fetch. First, it starts with a cookie thrown across the tennis courts…

…and when Rosie chases after it (she’s like me in that she rarely refuses a treat!), Gretchen calls her back so that Rosie knows the out and back drill. Looks like she’s getting it!

They also practiced the STAY command today. Since treats are Rosie’s #1 focus, when she sees that Gretchen is moving back to take a photo, Rosie generally follows. But lately, they’ve been working on STAY and look…

…Rosie’s totally getting it! Of course, it helps that Gretchen lifts her up onto a boulder to constrain her movement a bit! Oh, I should tell you that Rosie greets Gretchen with a spinning circle or two and then shies away a bit, nervous as she is that Gretchen might not be exactly who she claims to be! When Gretchen drops Rosie off at the house, she spins the same way waiting for the last of the treats from Gretchen’s pocket to be tossed on the floor as a goodbye ritual.

Despite Saber’s puppy-ness, he is perhaps the calmest greeter when we first arrive at his house. He is often sound asleep and it takes him a good three minutes to wake up. But when he does, he’s ready for action. When he meets humans or canines on the walk, Gretchen says it’s like walking an excited elephant, he bucks and pulls and can hardly wait to say hello!

So even though we take Saber on a nice, long walk every day, we also make certain to give him time to really run and play so that that exuberant enthusiasm isn’t as overwhelming as it is at first. Unfortunately today, we didn’t really run into other humans and canines. That’s probably because it started to rain and not a lot of people like to go out in the rain.

I find that silly, but I’ll write about that at another time. Today, we played at the other tennis courts and Saber exerted his ever-growing independence by immediately stealing the ball I was playing with. It doesn’t matter that I gave him another ball to play with. He wants mine and I must wait patiently to steal it back while he taunts me unmercifully! Check out that taunting look!

Now, while Saber’s hello is pretty mild when we arrive at his house, his goodbye is like a bull in a china shop. The door opens, he’s released to go inside, and he rams and slides right into his kennel and sits down excitedly waiting for his treats. Often he’s so forceful, the kennel moves a bit, but he’s obedient and content and very, very pleased when the treats are scattered out for him.

We had an unexpected surprise today. Our schedule got changed in the morning (no Woobie or Alice, sigh), but we picked up Quillette after we dropped Saber off and if anyone has a unique hello, it is definitely Q. She sings. Yes, sings. Like a cross between an opera singer and a wolf and she lets her aria rip the second the door opens. It takes half a block for her to quiet down and if we’re heading back to our house, like what we did today, she bursts into our house with the same full throttle song. If anyone comes home while she’s visiting, they get the same greeting.

And my moms thought I was loud! Geez!

Of course, when you leave Quillette, she has the saddest look in all the world. A pure study in contrasts!

So next time you meet a new dog, remember we are all different. Ask and I bet you’ll find the best way to say hello to us!

Until tomorrow!


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