Dogs and humans have spent thousands of years by each other’s sides. We’ve hunted together, lived together, and bonded together. Dogs not only have become man’s best friends they also help people make new connections. In short, dogs make people more social.
It’s no wonder then that so many people love visiting with and petting dogs when they see them out and about in the world. If you have a dog that you like to take on regular walks, chances are one or two people will always try to stop you, ask if they can pet your furry companion, and greet your dog with a big smile.
Dogs work as excellent icebreakers, and for good reason! Even the CDC notes that pets help alleviate stress, decrease feelings of loneliness, lower blood pressure, and increase opportunities for socializing. Humans are social creatures, and our dogs help us become even more social just by having them around.
So how do dogs make people more social?
Let’s look at the science behind dog interactions so you can understand how to use that information to build better relationships with other humans.
Dogs are perfect icebreakers
People are social creatures, but sometimes we deliberately avoid social interactions. This is especially true when you’re out in public — you may make eye contact with someone, but you’re not about to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the spot. If anything, you might give a polite nod and move on with your day. For some of us, the idea of talking to strangers is enough to give us a small anxiety attack: Hold a conversation with someone you barely know?! What a nightmare!
However, the moment you see someone with a dog, chances are you’re going to go up and strike up a conversation with them. But why is that?
In one Atlantic article by Julie Beck, she explains the social theories behind this phenomenon. She writes: “People typically treat strangers in public places with what the sociologist Erving Goffman termed ‘civil inattention.’ They may acknowledge each other with glances but quickly look away. The glancer is recognizing that the other person is there, but signaling that he doesn’t want to interact, and also being respectful of the fact that the other person probably doesn’t want to interact, either.”
Adding a dog to the picture, however, changes this interaction, which is why dogs make people more social. Dogs don’t have any awareness of our social concepts, and chances are they wouldn’t care even if they did know about them. They sometimes want to say hi to anyone and everyone they can, and humans who like dogs are equally eager to meet, pet, and chat with dogs and their owners. That willingness helps break that “civil inattention” barrier that humans have, which opens up the opportunity for humans to interact with each other through the dog.
Plus, humans that have dogs are just more open to being social when out in public, and others often see them as being more friendly. Dog owners expect that and are usually more than willing to talk about their dogs. After some time, you may even learn more about the owner by merely asking them questions about their dog.
And finally, having a dog just makes you more likely to go out anyway. So not only does being a dog owner encourage you to be more active, but it also opens up plenty of opportunities for you to be more social, meet new people, and even make new friends. The benefits of owning a dog just keep getting better and better.
Working and networking with dogs
So what does this mean for your everyday life? Besides being more approachable to strangers on the street, how can dogs help you in more controlled settings — such as the office?
Not all offices are dog-friendly, but luckily that trend is starting to become increasingly popular in the United States. Dogs are known to help offices boost productivity, relieve stress, and even help raise overall morale and creativity. If your office allows pets, then you can use almost any instance of a dog’s presence as a chance to meet new co-workers and network with your peers.
Just make sure that if you decide to bring in your dog, you do it safely: get their shots updated, make sure they’re properly socialized, follow the rules, and suggest creating a doggy evacuation plan in case there’s a fire or another emergency.
However, if your office isn’t lucky enough to have a dog-friendly policy, then you may find other ways to introduce your dog into the mix. You could meet up with co-workers for coffee and a chat, and bring along your dog to help get the conversation started. Additionally, you could bring your dog along to any out-of-office socializing events. If your company throws a party in the park, ask if dogs are welcome!
Some people have also gotten creative with how they bring dogs into their work. Nancy Barile, teacher and dog lover, explains how a dog visiting at her window every day helped her build relationships with her students: “Animals bring people together, and my classroom was no exception. The dogs helped to break the ice with my students, and they humanized their teacher. Dog visits, I discovered, were a great way to build relationships with teenagers.”
Even after the principal of her school discovered her secret, Barile was still able to hand out treats at the window to her regular visitors: Libby, Woody, Gruff, Argo, Boo Radley, Jax, and Madison. The regular visits were great stress relievers for her students and herself, and Nancy wrote: “The dog visits brighten our day, create an enjoyable atmosphere, and give us all something to look forward to.”
If — as either a teacher or someone who works with young children — you do decide to bring in dogs either into the classroom or outside your window as Nancy did, then be sure to teach students the importance of dog etiquette: always ask an owner if it’s OK to pet before petting, greet them slowly, learn their body language, and use a flat palm when handing out treats.
Making friends everywhere
Dogs make the best of companions, and thanks to their lack of understanding of human social cues, they also make great wingmen for meeting new people. Anything from taking your dog camping to meet other outdoor enthusiasts, to taking your dog with you to the office to brighten the mood and improve productivity — there are so many reasons why dogs are great icebreakers and stress relievers.
If you’re eager to make new friends but aren’t sure how to or where to start, then your dog may be the secret ingredient you need to create a positive first impression when meeting new people.
– Noah Rue