When the elevator door opened, i startled the lone occupant. Her dog however, remained peacefully seated on the floor, completely undisturbed.
"I thought you had that dog with you!", she said.
I motioned that i don't speak and she seemed delighted at the opportunity. As we dropped downward, she began a litany of complaints against "John" (name changed to protect the innocent). John is a dog i walk that lives on her floor.
John came from a shelter and you can tell he suffered some abuse before he was put up for adoption. He is a bit skittish and very defensive. He is also one of the warmest and most affectionate dogs i've ever taken care of.
But my elevator companion didn't see him that way. She called him a "barker" and said he was "crazy". Her diatribe had just wound down as we reached the lobby.
When the elevator door opened, she roused her subdued dog, smiled, and thanked me for listening before bustling off. I smiled back and proffered a small wave. I guess she just needed to vent and John was actually just a small part of a bigger problem.
I have found that just smiling alleviates a lot of the unease many people experience due to my silence. Most of the time if you smile at a human being, they will smile back. It's a conditioned response we all have hardwired into ourselves since infancy.
Just as a side note: You should never smile at a strange dog. Showing your teeth is a sign of aggression in the canine world.