Do you want to say hello to every dog you see? You aren't alone! Many dog lovers have the strong desire to pet and make friends with every dog they see. While many dogs enjoy meeting new people, other dogs are nervous or wary about greeting people they don't know. If you are approaching dogs, here are six things you should never do, and what you should do instead!
Don’t: approach without asking
Even if you're excited about seeing a dog it's important to ask permission from the dog's guardian before approaching. Not all dogs enjoy greeting or being petted by new people. Just because a dog is out in public doesn't mean they want to engage with people and approaching without asking can cause distress to dogs and their guardians.
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Do: ask how the dog likes to be petted
If you ask and receive permission to greet a dog ask the dog's guardian how you should pet the dog. Some dogs are very particular about where they are touched, while other dogs are happy to be petted anywhere. Although humans naturally will reach out to pet a dog on top of their heads, this location is one that many dogs really dislike and find threatening.
Don’t: hold your hand out to the dog
There is a common myth that if you are greeting a dog for the first time, you should hold your hand out so they can smell you. In the past, even many dog professionals encouraged this behavior. However, we now know it doesn't help dogs to feel better about meeting new people at all! Dogs experience much of the world through their sense of smell and they can smell you just fine without you holding your hand out and getting into their space. Instead, keep your hands relaxed at your side as you talk with the dog's guardian.
Do: let the dog approach you first
Getting consent from the dog's owner isn't enough, we also want to have consent from the dog before interacting. If you want to greet a dog, allow the dog to take the lead on the interaction. Allowing a dog to approach you first will help to make sure the dog is wanting to engage with you. If the dog chooses not to approach you, respect that choice and do not force the issue.
Don’t: lean over the dog
As you're petting a dog, be thoughtful about your body posture and avoid leaning over them. Many dogs find people leaning over them threatening and may back up, become agitated, or try to end the interaction. Avoiding leaning over a dog can be especially challenging if you're greeting small dogs. squatting down instead of leaning will make the dog feel more comfortable.
Do: stay calm on the outside
Seeing a dog can be exciting, and if you're told you can greet that dog, do your best to stay calm. Dogs can respond to things like excited human faces and voices speaking in an excited pitch, and the more excited you are, the more over-aroused the dog might get. Staying calm can help the dog stay calm and lead to a better interaction for both of you.
Don’t: stare at the dog
Many dogs find direct eye contact, especially staring or prolonged eye contact, to be threatening. If you want to greet a dog, avoid staring into the dog's eyes. This will help to keep your interaction more relaxed and enjoyable for your new canine friend.
Do: approach from the side
When greeting a dog, it's helpful to approach the dog from the side instead of head-on. Dogs can find a direct approach threatening, whereas a side approach puts dogs at ease.
Don’t: hug the dog
Contrary to how it is portrayed in popular culture, the act of hugging can be threatening and scary for dogs. Unfortunately, many dog lovers get excited and try to hug dogs as they meet them. For your safety and the dog's comfort, don't hug dogs as you greet them.
Do: pay attention to the dog’s body language
While you're greeting and petting the dog, pay attention to their body language. Jumping up, lowering their head, pinned ears, wide eyes, and a tight body can all be signs that the dog you're greeting isn't very comfortable with the interaction. If you notice a dog getting tense or pulling away, don't keep petting or reaching for the dog.
Don’t: get offended if you’re told you can’t greet
There are lots of reasons why someone might not want their dog to say hello to you. They might be in training, their dog could be recovering, or they might know their dog is uncomfortable or unpredictable around people. Even if a dog looks cute and seems friendly, trust that the dog's handler is making the right decision for their dog if they tell you you cannot greet them.
The bottom line
It's fun to meet new dogs if the experience is positive for both dogs and people. Always ask if it's ok to greet a dog before you reach out to pet. Be thoughtful about how you approach a dog to avoid making the dog feel threatened or uncomfortable. Then, when you are engaging with a dog, be aware of the dog's body language to ensure the dog is enjoying the interaction as much as you are.