Reunitings – To Greet or Not to Greet, That is the Question

Dogs greeting owner

Dogs greeting owner

Back in the day, about nine years ago, Jan Fennell advocated in her book The Dog Listener that upon returning home, regardless of how calm the dog was, one should wait a good five minutes after he had settled before acknowledging him at all.

Cesar Millan, predictably, says that the dog should be completely ignored, irrespective of how she is behaving, in order that you maintain your role as ‘pack leader’.

With the aid of science things have now swung the other way. Stanley Coren in Modern Dog Magazine writes of an investigation done on twelve Beagles by researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala on the effect on dogs of three different kinds of greetings – talking to the dog whilst touching it, talking to it without touching, and ignoring it.

The experimenters measured the emotional response of the dogs by determining the amount of oxytocin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) released into the blood stream. The researchers also looked for Cortisol (a ‘stress hormone’).

At the sight of the familiar person returning, the dogs became more active, with tails wagging. The concentration of oxytocin in the dogs’ blood increased and the concentration of cortisol decreased. When the familiar individual greeted the dog using both their voice and touch, the increase in oxytocin and drop in cortisol was much greater than when the greeting involved just voice alone. The positive effects also lasted a lot longer.

Where greeting one’s own dog is concerned, would it not be logical to use the individual dog as the gauge and not a prescribed formula? Enthusiastic and ‘tactile’ greetings are all very well, but could they not also be rewarding the very behaviours we are trying to eliminate, including jumping up?

If our dog is waggy and happy to see us whilst exercising some self-control, like the two chocolate Labradors pictured above, there can be no good reason not to touch them, to speak to them even to crouch down and kiss them if that’s what you want to do!

However, if the dog is excited to the extent of jumping up, charging around and yipping, I would ignore him until his feet were on the floor and he had calmed down a bit, and then maybe speak only. Touching him as well as speaking could re-start the hyper behaviour as could eye any contact. Again, the dog has to be the guage.

Huge greetings from the owner may also be about ‘guilt’ and how relieved or worried we ourselves feel. Too many emotions can be in the pot, associated with something that should be run-of-the-mill: people coming back home after going out. One should follow the other as surely as night follows day.

You don’t see two dogs go wild with excitement when parted for a couple of hours, do you? They probably acknowledge one another with a bit of sniffing to see what they have missed out on and then they slot back into life as it was.

The question is not about ‘to greet or not to greet’ – it is about degree – and common sense.

Here is my ‘story‘ of two Boxer brothers who had to be given quite a long time to calm down before they could be greeted!

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About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist (INTODogs-ABTC - AAB) and trainer covering Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks, a 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site: www.dogidog.co.uk
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