This is a picture of Mr. Barky and Minnie, which I snapped today after they became friends in my local woods.
I don’t know the name of the dog, but that’s what I’m calling him, after his method of introduction when he spotted us.
Dogs are pretty easy to understand if you take the time to learn to read their body language, and remember that they normally strive for harmony. They want everyone to get on, and preferably to live together in a large, affable, smelly pack and to run about, play, sleep and gnaw the odd bone.
This is not to say that they don’t grump at each other now and again, but when they are in a pack dogs will always try to make the peace. So, they’ll encourage the irritated dog to play, or attempt to cheer up the mopey gus. They’ll reprimand when necessary. Fights tend to be fast and furious, and quickly over.
I’m describing normal dogs’ behaviour. When dogs are poorly socialised or have experienced traumas they tend to react differently. Still, if you have a good grasp of the basics you should generally understand the encounter.
Today, Mr. Barky ran up to us barking his little terrier head off. A lot of small dogs (Jack Russells in particular) act like this. I’m quite used to it and it doesn’t fuss me. Martin and I have a name for it: Small Dog Syndrome. When Mr. Barky bounded toward us in little leaps I noticed he was wagging his tail furiously. As soon as he announced his presence Minnie froze, but didn’t offer any sign of fright or anger. She was sizing him up.
There were a couple of moments of silence as Minnie contemplated her best move. I watched the body language of the dogs, and at the moment I judged best, I said in a clear, happy, high tone, “Aren’t you a lovely dog!”
Minnie immediately advanced forward slowly, wagging her tail in the ‘let’s be friends” beat. Mr. Barky went silent, and seemed a little cautious now that Minnie was actually approaching. They sniffed each other’s faces. I added a few more words of encouragement and then moved forward as if everything was fine, and let the dogs get on with being dogs.
This picture was taken just as Mr. Barky and Minnie became aware that Mr. Barky’s human companion was approaching. It’s clear to me that Mr. Barky thinks he’s the boss, and I suspect he pushes everyone around at his home. Well, dogs will do that if no one lets them know the chain of command.
Dogs usually love meeting other dogs, so if Minnie gets to make friends on one of her walks she is always a little happier for it. Which in turn pleases me.