With approximately 90 million-plus dogs in the United States and the increasing number of dog-friendly workplaces, apartments, and activities, you are more likely to meet a dog out and about with their owners. It could be at the gym, in the office, a café, a park, or just up about on the streets. So, it’s always a wise idea to learn a thing or two on how to greet a dog for the first time wag.
If you’re like many dog lovers, it’s tough to see an adorable, fluffy pooch and not have the confidence to go up and say hi. Just like little children, you can’t just run up and fawn all over them without doing some basic introductions.
Why the Need to Greet a Dog the Right Way?
Just as some humans don’t fancy talking to everyone they meet on the street, some pups don’t enjoy being approached anyhow by strangers. Others feel fearful or stressed by certain kinds of people or dressings (for example, someone walking with an umbrella or stick, men in big hats, or people wearing sunglasses).
On the flip side, some dogs, especially puppies, can get overexcited and overstimulated by the outdoor environment to an extent that they find it difficult to behave appropriately. This can make them nippy and begin unpleasant behaviors such as barking or jumping.
On the extreme end, a strange dog can easily bite you when they feel scared and feel like they can’t run away or escape, especially when they are constrained on a dog leash.
While the dog parent holds the most responsibility for controlling their pets, those of us who adore these fluffy friends will simply help to avoid such unpleasant situations by greeting them right.
How to Greet a New Dog Politely
There is a right and a wrong way to approach and greet a new dog. First, you need to understand that other people’s pups are not bred for your entertainment, so you’re not entitled to their affection or attention.
But, by practicing polite greeting etiquette and behavior, and asking their owner for permission, you can greet the dog safely without triggering unpleasant reactions. More importantly, you need to study the dog’s body language and gauge if they would welcome the interaction.
So, here are quick tips from expert dog trainers on how to greet a dog politely, especially if you’re meeting them for the first time:
Tip1: How to Greet a New Dog Owner
Show some courtesy by seeking permission from the dog owner to say hi to their pup. So, if you find a dog tethered outside of a coffee shop or otherwise unattended, it’s best to just leave them and stay safe. It’s okay to admire from afar, or better still, wait for the owner to return and ask if the pup enjoys meeting new people.
However much you feel attached to the pooch, don’t be offended if the owner says no to your greeting request. There are multiple reasons some dog owners don’t allow strangers to greet their pups. Probably they don’t have the time or they fear that their dog might backtrack on the gains made on their training regimens – it’s usually not personal.
Tip 2: Allow the Dog to Approach You First
Never invade a dog’s space or force yourself on them without an invitation. Let them decide whether or not you’re welcomed to greet them. Begin by standing calmly with both hands relaxed on your sides, or crouch down and stay calm.
Extending your hands out for the pooch to sniff can sometimes work, but some dogs can still feel frightened by this move, making them to shy away or react through a defensive bite.
Science has proven that dogs can smell from miles away, so just stay a few feet off and they’ll be able to get your scent without extending your hands.
If the dog seems excited to meet you, they will obviously approach you by coming closer while wagging their tail. At this point, you can slowly let the dog sniff your hand – if they want to – and then gently pet their shoulder, chest, or neck – just make sure you keep off the top of the head.
Tip 3: Approach from the Sides or Below the Head
Never approach a strange dog directly from the back or from above their head. It’s a good idea to slightly turn sideways, or better still, crouch down.
According to dog experts, these furry friends don’t fancy things dangling over them, such as strangers’ hands coming from above onto their head.
Such behaviors can scare them, and their immediate course of action may be to drive off in fear or react by biting your hand.
Try to reach out from the side or under the head as you pet them on the back, sides, neck, or chest. And, don’t shy away from asking the owner which body parts the dog prefers to be touched and which areas are no go zones.
Tip 4: Avoid Direct Eye Contact or Staring
Even we humans don’t continually stare at each other when speaking; it definitely feels weird! Dogs too feel intimidated when you stare at them directly. Maintain soft eyes with a relaxed face, and avoid staring directly in their eyes.
Tip 5: Discourage Bad Behavior
The same way you wouldn’t want your own dog to misbehave, don’t allow the excitement of meeting a new pup erode your moral judgment – pun intended! If the dog begins to jump on you in excitement, be sure to give the owner a hand in discouraging the behavior.
By encouraging bad behaviors such as jumping or barking, the dog can easily get confused or regress on the progress made on training, something the owner might not smile about.
Tip 6: Read the Dog’s Body Language
Unlike humans who can simply speak out their dissatisfactions, dogs speak a lot with their bodies. You need to know whether the dog enjoys the greeting and wants to continue interacting with you by simply observing what their body language says.
You can find lots of resources online on body language interpretation, but here is a quick roundup to help you learn when to keep interacting and when to walk away:
1: A Happy Dog Enjoying the Greeting
If a dog is happy and enjoying your greeting, they will make it very obvious by seeking out more interactions. Here are a few signs they’ll show:
- Soft, adorable eyes
- An open mouth
- Relaxed ears
- Loose body with a free wagging tail
- Comfortably approaching you by coming closer
- Leaning on you to seek your touch
2: A Scared Dog Uncertain About your Intentions
If the dog is unsure about your interaction and doesn’t enjoy your pat, they might show the following body language:
- Closed mouth
- Obvious blinking
- Lip licking
- Turning away their head
- Wide eyes with some whites showing
- Ears pinned back against the head
- Trying to hide or back away from you
Keenly pay attention to these body language signals to better gauge whether your interaction is welcomed or not.
After a period of interaction, the dog will clearly let you know if they want more socializing or if they’ve finished with you. Always respect their wish!
Regardless of the outcome of the greeting, still praise the pup and complement the owner before you walk away.
Common Mistakes People Make When Greeting a New Dog
Perfectly well-meaning people often commit multiple offenses when greeting new pups. Here are some common mistakes almost every one of us has fell victim to:
- Failing to seek permission from the dog owner before greeting their pet
- Reaching out to a dog’s head and beginning to pat
- Staring directly at the dog’s eyes
- Making high-pitched sounds – sounds that totally confuse dogs
- Bringing your face too close to the pup
- Clicking fingers or clapping hands right under the dog’s face
- Approaching a dog from behind and rubbing their rump
When You’ve Passed the Sniff Test!
Greeting a dog you’re meeting for the first time can seem exciting and irresistible, especially if they look cute and fluffy. Don’t fall victim to unpleasant surprises by approaching any pup you come across without due diligence and by observing the above tips.
More importantly, you need to pass the sniff test before you can comfortably embrace and pat a new dog. Always watch the dog’s body language, keeping your emotions in check and respecting the outcome of their investigations – what we call the sniff test!
Generally, a happy dog will communicate by smiling (open mouth and relaxed face), freely wagging their tail, relaxing their ears, and edging closer to you for some touch.
Dr. Belinda Hawks earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University in 2006 and has been practicing veterinary medicine since then. Dr. Belinda currently works as a passionate rancher and mixed animal veterinarian in a rural town in South Carolina. When not practicing veterinary medicine or writing, she spends her free time with her lovely husband and three kids (2 boys and a lovely girl) in South Carolina.