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How to Approach Large Dogs

If I had a dime for every time someone asked me, “Does he bite?” or “Will she eat me?”  Well, I would have a lot of dimes.  Although my dogs consider themselves to be lapdogs, society calls them large or even extra large in some cases.  I also volunteer quite a bit and mainly work with dogs of similar looks and size to mine, so I’m used to being around these gentle giants of the canine world.

German Shepherd

How to Approach a Large Dog

We all have preconceived notions, so I’ll admit to having some myself.  As a large dog owner, I sometimes get apprehensive around dogs that are not like mine. I get nervous if a small dog, like a Chihuahua, approaches me, especially if it is being carried. Why?  True, I’m more comfortable with larger dogs, but the other reason that scenario makes me nervous is that if a dog is being carried, I find it harder to read its body language.  I don’t know what to prepare for as it approaches me.

Will the dog lying at my feet eat you?  Highly doubtful, but let’s examine some good practices to make approaching a gentle giant safe and pleasant for everyone.

Always ask if you can approach

First and foremost, always always always ask before approaching a strange dog and make sure you approach from the front.  Imagine you are standing in a store and a stranger approaches you from behind, wraps their arms around your neck and exclaims about how lovely you look.  Not cool, right?  Dogs don’t like that kind of invasive surprise either as they have just as much right to personal space as we expect to have.

Yellow ribbon = stay away

Some dogs just need more space, regardless of their size. The Yellow Dog Program was started to make people aware of the pooches that just don’t want to be approached. Sometimes it’s because of aggression, but it can also be because of anxiety or because the dog is easily excitable. Regardless of the reason – or dog size – if you see a yellow ribbon on the dog’s collar or leash, that means you should not approach that dog.

Check for Visible Clues of Relaxation or Aggression

Next, check for visible signs of relaxation or aggression.  A large dog, who is sitting or lying as you approach, is not contemplating how many calories you represent, but if you don’t believe me, here are some body language signs to look for when approaching a large dog:

  • A dog that is ready to attack will make himself look larger, he will be tense, his tail may be straight up, or “flagged” as if preparing for a conflict.
  • A scared dog can be just as likely to bite.  In that circumstance, the dog may be making his body “smaller” by shrinking away, you might see more of the whites of his eyes and he may be licking his lips rapidly.  The tail may be wrapped tightly underneath as well.
  • A relaxed dog actually looks relaxed – shoulders will be loose as well as the tail.  He may be wagging his tail, but it shouldn’t be excessive.  The mouth will also be relaxed.

Think of yourself being in all of the above situations and imagine your own body language.  If you’re angry, you may flex your muscles or try to appear larger. If you are scared, you may try to shrink or be invisible and if you are meeting a friend or a friendly person, you feel relaxed as well.

These are just a few guidelines to use when approaching an unfamiliar dog.  Just don’t let the size fool you – these large dogs may just be gentle giants hoping for a friendly pat.

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