Clearly, as there are two parties to a greeting between a resident dog and a stranger, how the meeting goes depends on the behavior and demeanor of both but in this article, I look at human behavior. To a dog, strangers are from an “alien pack” and not to be trusted. The default position, therefore, from the perspective of a domestic dog, is to always be suspicious of strangers who enter their homes. Dogs will often greet strangers with a great deal of barking and sniffing.
How the dog behaves thereafter is dependent, to at least a certain extent, on the behaviour of the stranger greeting the resident dog. Dr. Desmond Morris divides strangers to a dog into two groups, (1) those that have naturally smooth movements and (2) those that have jerky movements. The former compared to the latter are preferable when greeting a dog.
Tense jerky movements indicate a tense and hesitant person whereas, calm smooth movements indicate a more positive and confident person. Also, tense jerky movements might indicate a prey animal to a dog and are therefore more likely to arouse aggression. Also, jerky human movements are more likely to be of the kind found “in hostile or nervous canine encounters”. Once again this may result in an aggressive response from the dog.
And if a person who makes the jerky movements is nervous of dogs which is entirely likely, the problem is compounded. They will tend to retreat from a dog which provides them with a signal to advance and possibly even attack. Dr. Morris states that if you withdraw or pull away rapidly from a dog it “makes a dog feel suddenly superior and it responds accordingly.”
The more calm and smooth actions from the other sort of person provides a dog with gentle hand contact to the flank of the body which can convert a barking and noisy dog into a “fawning tail-wagger”. In other words, the dog is in the palm of the hand of the greeting person. It seems to switch on the domestic dog’s desire to be friendly to what I guess they consider to be a superior or leading animal. I think it is always wise to not wave one’s hand in the face of either a dog or cat. It can provoke the wrong response. Perhaps the back of the hand to allow the dog to smell the scent.
There is one situation which bars any kind of human greeting either soft or jerky and that is when a dog is clearly in a highly aggressive mood with a stiff, rigid body and growling and snarling vocalisations. Under these circumstances the best thing a person can do is to do nothing and wait for the dog’s owner to rescue them, according to Dr. Desmond Morris.
Of course, the dog’s owner can do a lot to ensure that their behavior is good when greeting a trainer. This requires some training.