Approaching a dog you don't know well can be a bit unnerving. After all, you don't know in advance if he'll wag his tail or try to bite your fingers off. Whether you're trying to ease the tension or want to befriend the dog, caution is key. Moving slowly and taking your time when approaching a dog will ensure that you keep all your fingers and that the dog doesn't have a heart attack in the process.
Always approach dogs from the front. Come around from the back and you'll surprise the dog. You don't know what this particular startled dog might do -- whether he'll cower and run away or bite. Approaching from the front and low to the ground (never from above, which can be threatening to him) will also allow you to understand how the dog feels about your presence. Snarling, growling or barking might be a "stay away" signal that you should obey (see "Caution" below).
Hello, Pleased to Smell You!
The first thing a dog does when encountering another is sniff them, so let him before you attempt to stroke him. To do so, move your hand forward slowly and let him sniff it. Make sure your hand stays low, so the back of your hand reaches from under his chin and it's not coming at him from above, where it could be considered a sign of aggression on your part. If you have other pets at home that he'll be able to smell on your clothing, be ready for a long sniffing session. A strange dog will want to check out all the different smells you carry.
About Body Language
Your own body language says a lot about your intentions, and dogs will pick up on that to decide whether to attack, be friendly or ignore you. Never lock eyes with a dog you don't know. This could be considered a threat or a challenge for authority. If you happen to meet a dog ready to take on the challenge, you're in for a world of trouble. Instead, lower your eyes before you approach the dog. It's OK to look at him in the eyes, but move your gaze on and off him, so it doesn't look menacing. Keep your arms down, rather than waving them around, which could also be considered a threat.
If the Dog is Sleeping
You might be able to touch your own sleeping dog to wake him up gently, but never try this with a dog you don't know that well. Instead, approach any sleeping -- or distracted -- dogs carefully. Start from a distance by speaking, calling the dog's name if you know it or making some kind of loud sound to wake him up. Give the dog a few seconds to figure out who you are -- if he knows you -- or to decide you're not a threat before you move towards him.
Caution: If the dog reacts aggressively by growling, barking, or snapping should you attempt to move toward them, it's best to cease attempting to approach him. For overly fearful or aggressive dogs, another tactic is needed (i.e. typically waiting until they are comfortable enough to approach you, rather than the other way around).
By Tammy Dray
About the Author
Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.