The human code of polite behavior is lost on our canine companions. Dogs don’t care if they pass gas in a crowded room, or ever think about wiping off their muddy paws before coming into the house. On the other hand, people typically are not aware of the dos and don’ts when it comes to polite behavior in the dog world.
Puppies who are allowed to stay with the litter until at least 8 weeks of age learn a lot about how to “play nice” from their mom and siblings. Unfortunately, most puppies are separated from the litter too soon, before they get a chance to learn these things. The next thing you know the new family is complaining about the puppy nipping too hard and other pushy behaviors. In addition, dog owners often inadvertently undo the correct behaviors and encourage their dogs to be impolite.
Most doggie etiquette problems can be observed when new dogs meet and during playtime. People typically encourage their dogs to meet other dogs inappropriately. They immediately bring the dogs together face-to-face. Odds are about one-in-three that this will result in an aggressive outburst by one or both of the dogs. Lingering eye contact between dogs who just met can be very threatening and should be avoided.
The first contact between new dogs should be a nose-to-tail greeting. But even this can go wrong if one of the dogs rushes up too quickly, sniffs too forcefully, or for too long. I’ve seen dogs lift the dog they are sniffing up off the ground because they are sniffing so forcefully. This can be very disconcerting to the dog being sniffed. First impressions are important to dogs, too, and this is not the way to make a good first impression.
I recommend a “3-second rule” for eye-contact and sniffing. Until dogs are comfortable around each other break up eye-contact or sniffing lasting more than three seconds. Briefly separate the dogs by a few feet before allowing them to interact again. This may have to be done several times before the dogs are okay with each other. When I’m introducing dogs the process typically takes about five minutes.
Playtime can be a hotspot for dog etiquette issues. Play should be a balanced affair. There should be equal amounts of being the chaser and being chased. If wrestling, there should be a healthy balance of who is on top and who is on the bottom. Tug-of-War should be a game, not one dog ripping the toy out of the other dog’s mouth. Dogs can understand they need to adjust their play style in order to keep the other dog interested in playing. A large dog can learn to play more gently with a smaller dog. A polite dog also accepts when another dog doesn’t want to play and leaves them alone.
Other impolite dog behaviors include muzzle punching. This is when a dog pushes their nose into another dog, or person, in an effort to get them to play or interact with them. If the dog doesn’t get the response they want they muzzle punch harder, to the point of it being painful. Grabbing another dog by the back of the neck or behind the shoulder blades is inappropriate dog etiquette. It is not fair play, since the other dog is helpless to respond to it. I’ve seen dogs grab a dog by the back of the neck and twisting the other dog’s collar and dragging them around to the point of nearly choking the dog unconcious.
It goes beyond impolite and becomes bullying for a dog to jump on another dog’s back or head, or play too rough in general. Some dogs will plow right over another dog sending the other dog rolling over uncontrollably. If your dog runs into you routinely, perhaps even knocking you to the ground, this is bully behavior. The dog is saying, “Get out of my way! I don’t move for you, you move for me.” Very rude, even by dog standards.
Other codes most dogs live by are, don’t bother another dog while they are peeing or pooping, do not urinate on others, if a dog lays down with a bone or toy they want it for themselves and other dogs should know to leave them alone, and humping everyone you meet is not okay. Sometimes behaviors such as excessive humping, peeing on other dogs, or playing too rough, are results of heightened anxiety. If the anxiety is addressed the bad behaviors often go away.
Thankfully, most dogs are capable of learning correct dog etiquette at any age. Dogs have to be taught these niceties by someone. So if your dog needs to brush up on their manners, it is up to you to show them the way. And soon they will be socially acceptable in both the human and canine worlds.