We look on dogs with human eyes. Our trying to guess the cause of a dog’s behaviour is often influenced by what is known as anthropomorphism. In other words, we tend to view dogs as furry, four-legged people. Yet in order to get your dog to trust you, you must first look on her as ‘just’ a dog.
The common niceties we employ when meeting another person are completely lost on a dog. She won’t understand what we mean when we look her in the eye and reach out our hand.
Although the structure of a dog’s world has some basic animalistic similarities with ours (for instance of body language and voiced communication), unlike ours the integrity of the dog’s world is upheld by smells, movement and The Pack.
Learn about what makes your dog tick
In order to earn a dog’s trust you must first learn what makes her feel safe, and one way to do this is to learn the sorts of things that make her feel un-safe. If she exhibits the following signs of fear when you enter her world you will next time have to tread more carefully to win her trust.
‘Signs of a fearful dog may include cowering, leaning away with low head/tail and a tense, trembling body. The dog may avert its gaze and show the distinctive “whale eye” (exposed whites of eyes). Ears may be flat against the head and the brow furrowed.’ mentions Janice Lloyd in the Veterinary Sciences.
Calmness of manner and gentle interaction
You may think that to approach your dog with a spring in your step will win her over. Actually it has quite the opposite effect and can even cause her to strike you in self-defence. Veterinarian Dr. Sophia Yin concluded of her research carried out in 2009 that dogs prefer to be guided by someone who is positive, yet calm and un-confusing.
Dogs are very good at interpreting intention. That is to say, your dog will rate your movements by referring to an inbuilt list of threats. Pointing, reaching out and leaning over her can spell danger and may prompt a display of aggression.
Ensure that when you greet her you move slowly towards her in a sideways fashion. Then squat or sit down a short distance away and avoid direct eye contact. In this way she has time to get used to the idea of you being close to her. Always try to move slowly and smoothly, and allow her the freedom to move if she chooses to.
Go for a walk
Instinctively a dog will trust the one she sees as the leader. Being confident, calm and assertive when you take your dog for a walk will engender her trust. In a paper published in 2016 by Taylor and Francis Online, educationalists Thomas Fletcher and Louise Platt wrote that a walk is, ‘an expression of the human-animal bond and a key activity through which the bond is strengthened or potentially weakened.’
You will know when you have made your dog feel safe and comfortable. Her trust will be apparent by her allowing you to pet her, or by her licking your hand and staying close by. But remember, while a dog’s trust can be tested it will not last forever.