As a kid we would visit Grandma and she would always greet us the same way, asking, “Did you eat yet?”. The question of course was always rhetorical, it didn’t matter how we responded or when we had eaten last. She always served us something. Because at the end of the day, it was never really about the food or how hungry we were. She just wanted us to know that we were cared for and loved.
When you sniff a dog’s snout, especially if you do so audibly, as if you’re going out of your way so that they know that you’re trying to sniff them, you’re essentially playing the roll of grandma, asking them “Did you eat yet?”.
Of course, following the sniff up with a treat doesn’t hurt.
It sounds silly and feels just about as ridiculous to do, but it really works. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met a nervous or skiddish dog who I’ve sniffed – just a quick, but audible ‘sniff sniff sniff’ – who instantly started licking my face and pressing into me for comfort, essentially transitioning me from part of the scary new thing into protecting them from the scary new thing.
Of course, it’s important to remember that just below a dog’s cute wet nose are a bunch of sharp teeth. So, please use caution when bringing your face towards a dog’s, especially one who is unfamiliar, stressed or fearful. Always allow a dog to come to you, never force a sniff or invade their space. Remember to remain a safe distance away and allow the dog to approach you half way. If they’re comfortable, they’ll approach. But if they recoil, give them their space. They’ll come around when they feel safe, they are dogs after all.