How People Make the Problem Worse
Of course people inadvertently make the problem much worse. For one, they forget the Golden Rule - ask to pet, first. Instead, well-wishers approach too quickly, crowd too closely or loom over like a thunderstorm ready to dump its load. Under this pressure some dogs will freeze or shrink, pretending it's all a bad dream. Others take action - usually a reflex bark or low-level growl. A few successes here, and the message is loud and clear: when strangers approach, growl and bark to keep them away. Pretty soon, your sweet, slightly insecure dog has turned into a mass of defensive rumbling.
Some owners respond by reprimanding or punishing their dog. This can teach Fido that he'd better hide his fear from you but it doesn't make the internal fear disappear. As a result, your dog may no longer show signs that he wants people to back away, instead he holds it in until he can't take it anymore and then he explodes in a full-blown bite.
Why Do Friendly People Look Scary?
Many humans can't understand why their dogs would be afraid of them when they're obviously making friendly human gestures. Turn the tables around and the picture becomes clear. Say you're afraid of spiders and your friend shoves her pet tarantula in your face. If she simultaneously reassures you, "She's a friendly tarantula. See her amicable expression?" or "She can't cause harm, she's just an innocent baby," would you suddenly feel safe?
No, in fact the only way you could get used to the spider is if you greeted it at your own pace. That means it would have to be on a table or in some locations where you could control your distance from it. Then when you were ready you could gradually approach for a closer look and to even touch it. The same goes for dogs. All dogs are not outgoing or used to meeting many types of strangers, especially if they were already shy when you adopted them or have received minimal supervised socialization with many types of humans. If you walk into a dog's personal space or even stand and reach out to let him sniff you hand or to pet him he may feel threatened or be unsure of your intentions. To him, your hand might as well be a meat cleaver.
If however, you stand straight up or crouch down on one knee while looking slightly away, then he can approach and sniff you at his own rate. You can speed up the friendship if you inconspicuously drop tasty treats close to you. If he's taking these without any hesitation, you can hold treats in your hand while averting your gaze so that shy Fido can choose to take them.
Often people manage to get through the initial greeting with Fido okay but then they make a quick or inappropriate move that scares him into snapping or running away. This is still similar to the situation with the giant spider. Even when you're finally comfortable enough to examine and touch the tarantula, if it suddenly moves its mouthparts or waves one of its legs in the air you might jump away out of fright. To you these movements may conjure images of the tarantula leaping at you and taking a bite whereas to the tarantula the movements may just be a subconscious change in position or even a signal that it's your friend. So the trick to ensuring that you don't frighten Fido even after the initial greeting is to gradually get him used to you in different positions. Avoid learning over him or reaching over his head or grabbing and hugging him so he feels confined. Instead move slowly and smoothly in order to give him a chance to back away.
Read the Dog's Signals – READ FULL ARTICLE