When people meet each other, they shake hands, slap five, smile, salute, bow, embrace, say, Yo. Hello. How are you? Good morning. Good evening. What’s up? What’s new? They may be happy to see each other. They may not care very much at all.
Strangers greet each other differently than people who know each other well. You wouldn’t greet a new kid at school the same way you’d greet your best friend. You wouldn’t say hello to your mother the same way you’d say hello to the president of the United States. Most greetings are friendly or polite. Some aren’t. Some greetings show respect for a person’s rank. Most probably don’t.
The same is true of animals. Their greetings are as many and varied as the species themselves. You know how people greet each other. But what are animal greetings like? When different animals meet their own kind, just what do they do?
Dogs have an amazing sense of smell – maybe forty times better than people’s. So it’s no surprise that dogs use their noses to say hello.
When dogs, and other animals in the canine, or dog, family, such as wolves and coyotes, meet, they smell each other’s faces and hindquarters. Sniffing can tell each dog whether the other one is a male or a female, whether it’s a grown-up or a puppy, and whether it wants to mate or not.
If they’re friendly, dogs welcome each other with wagging tails, upright or forward ears, bows, and happy barks. If they’re not, they greet each other with drooping or stiff tails, flattened ears, bared teeth, and growls.
Like most other canines, dogs are social animals and like to travel in packs. Within a pack, whether it’s large or small, each dog has a rank. Their body language when they greet tells which dog is dominant – has a higher rank – or if they’re equals. A top dog will stand tall and straight and stare right at the other dog. Sometimes it will put its head or neck on the other dog’s shoulder. An underdog will bow its head, lower its body, and look away. It may even lie down on its side or back. Equals don’t threaten or act defenseless. Their greetings are brief and often lead to playing or to ignoring each other. Even though most pet dogs don’t live in packs, when they meet other dogs, they act as if they do.
Dogs learn this body language when they’re pups. Soon they become good at learning who’s the boss and which other dogs to play with or stay away from. If you learn dogs’ body language, you can figure out which dogs to play with or stay away from too.