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11 Tips for Greeting a Strange Dog

How do you greet a strange dog? One of our posts last week dealt with our unorthodox solution to stop people from getting in Ty’s face. This guest post from Deborah Flick is an awesome follow up.  Thanks Deborah!

Loving dogs means understanding how they want to be greeted. Get our tips for greeting a strange dog.Last fall I attended a weekend-long presentation by dog trainer, behaviorist, and author extraordinaire, Jean Donaldson, at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. Jean presented a litany of offenses that humans, with the best of intentions, commit against unsuspecting canines. I cringed as she went down her list.

1. Neglect to ask the dog’s person for permission to meet their dog. GUILTY

2. Reach over the dog’s head and pat, pat, pat. GUILTY

3. Put your face up close to the dog’s face and coo, “Gimme a kiss.” GUILTY.

4. Spot a dog you want to meet, make direct, unblinking eye contact, and quicken your step as you walk directly toward the dog while making high- pitched vocalizations. GUILTY

5. You see an irresistible bundle of fur and walk up to the dog from the rear and enthusiastically rub his or her cute little tush. GUILTY

6. Approach a dog by looking directly at her and as you near with your arms extended clap, clap, clap your hands or click your fingers right at the dog’s face. GUILTY

7. You see a sweet dog laying down. You crouch over at the waist, outstretch your arm and very slowly slink toward the dog while looking directly into her eyes. GUILTY

8. Assume that because you love dogs, all dogs love you, too, and that you possess a special affinity for dogs and they with you, and therefore, you can forego the formalities that ordinary humans should observe. GUILTY

Guilty … and lucky. Any one of these situations could have ended in disaster for me and maybe, unfortunately, for the poor unsuspecting dog.

Man Greeting Dogs

Whoa! Slow down there mister!

So, I set up an experiment. I asked my partner to catch me unaware, stare me in the eye while approaching, and then rapidly swish his hand past my eyes, over my forehead, and pat, pat, pat me on the head. (Go on, try it.) We talked about this little experiment on a Sunday, life intervened, and I forgot about the conversation.

On the following Wednesday, he rapidly approached, flashed his hand past my eyes and pat, pat, patted my head. I ducked, scrunched my face in disgust and pulled my head away. He continued to stare, smiling and squealing how cute I was and then pat, pat, patted again. I ducked again and backed farther away. If I had canines for teeth I might have been tempted to flash them and growl to warn him off – and I know this man. Imagine if I didn’t!

Well, that’s pretty much what our dog’s experience and that’s Jean Donaldson’s point! Dogs have their own language and protocols for meeting strange dogs (and people) and it’s high time we learned what they are. After all, it just doesn’t seem fair that the full burden of figuring out how to live with another species should fall entirely on our dogs. We need to hold up our end of the relationship by learning to politely greet a stranger.

So … How do you greet a strange dog? Here are some do’s and don’ts:

1. Don’t approach the dog. Pretend you are ignoring the dog. Dogs prefer not to be zeroed in on by strangers. Have you ever noticed how well-mannered dogs meeting for the first time turn their heads away from each other?

2. Ask the dog’s person for permission to meet their dog. Assuming they say yes, follow the steps below.

3. Stay relaxed. You can yawn, put on an easy smile, or slowly blink your eyelids. Keep you body loose. All these signal to the dog that you are not a threat.

4. Do not look the dog in the eyes. While eye contact signals trustworthiness to most Westerners, in the dog world it signals aggression or threat.

5. Turn your body so you are not facing the dog. Again, being face-to-face is polite to most of us, but can signal threat or aggressive intentions to a dog. Notice how well-mannered dogs greet – as they approach they make a half-moon curve as they pass each other and turn nose to butt.

6. Stand straight or squat. Do not crouch over the dog. I doubt you want to be crouched over by a stranger and neither does your dog. It’s threatening.

7. Allow the dog to come to you. Most dogs are naturally curious and they will let you know if they are interested in you. If not, don’t take it personally.

8. If the dog shows interest by sniffing you with a relaxed posture, tail wag (not all dogs will wag and not all wagging is friendly), perhaps looking at you with soft eyes – then you can slowly offer the dog your hand for investigation.

9. Let the dog sniff your hand, if she wants to, and then gently touch the dog on the shoulder, neck or chest, not the top of the head.

10. The dog will clearly tell you if she wants more interaction or if she is finished with you. Listen to her.

11. If at any time during the interaction the dog backs away, stop what you are doing.

If you take one thing away from this post, make it this: NEVER bend over and reach your out-stretched arm to a strange dog. Dogs will love you for it.

Author Bio: Deborah is a pet lover who shares her life with Sadie, a shy and fearful standard poodle. She’s currently working toward a degree at “Sadie’s School for Hapless Humans.”

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Comment Archive

Personal injury and dog bite attorney in Charlotte, NC - Olive Law Firm May 15, 2015 at 12:14 pm
[…] a dog carefully when greeting it Most people are unaware that there is a proper and safe way to greet a dog. Never lean over and sticking your hand in the dog’s face. Contrary to what you see in the […]
How NOT to Greet a Dog - Tips for Humans | Furry Frenzy Dog Walking & Pet Care Jun 30, 2014 at 10:52 am
[…] eye contact, pats on the head, and unsolicited kisses can seem threatening to a dog. I loved the Take Paws blog on this […]
Amy@GoPetFriendly Oct 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm
That's a great example of how an introduction can work when we do it on the dog's terms! Thanks so much for sharing - and keep up the good work with your dog. Our Buster is also too excited to meet other dogs and forgets his manners. He was a stray when we found him, and I imagine he never learned how to properly greet other dogs. It's a process, but I'm sure we'll both get there! Thanks so much for stopping by.
Unpredictablecatz Oct 5, 2011 at 2:43 pm
I loved this article. I have had dogs in the past when I was much younger and never spent much time learning about them. This time, much older, I have adopted a dog at 2 1/2 months who is now 1 year old, I read as much as times allows. I met a new dog last night on our walk, my dog was off leash at a park. My co-walker (and her dog) asked if we could meet his dog. He was agreeable. My friend spoke to his dog right away and reached out. I knew this was a bad idea, because we did not know the dog. So I just kept chatting to the owner, and his dog came close to me so I turned sideways, so as not to be facing the dog, and did not look directly at the dog. The dog came even closer when I wasn't paying attention and nudged my hand. As my arm was hanging loosely by my side, I turned my hand around so I could gently touch the dogs chin. After that the dog kept coming back to me and even rested against my leg. I felt so good, because I knew the dog liked me. I was guilty of all the wrong things to do in the past, but with all of these great articles out there to read, I learned so much, and now use as much dog language as I can whenever I meet a new dog. I just wish my dog would. He is in too much of a hurry to meet other dogs that he forgets his manners. I am working on that with him. Laurie
Amy@GoPetFriendly Sep 13, 2011 at 4:21 pm
Hi Shelly. It's really hard to say without more information. If both dogs were on leash, you may be equally at fault. No dog likes to be startled from behind, but biting isn't an appropriate response.
Shelly Baird Sep 13, 2011 at 4:56 am
What about someone that comes up from behind you with there dog, without any warning. And there dog got bit.
Shelly Baird Sep 13, 2011 at 4:52 am
What about someone comes up behind u, without giving you any warning?
Amy@GoPetFriendly Jun 19, 2011 at 12:47 am
Oh, to have dogs like yours Rachael! It's wonderful that you can get out and enjoy meeting new people with them. For safety reasons, I'm glad that you've found so many people are asking to pet your dogs. Some dogs, like some people, are shy or even fearful around strangers or children. For their comfort, it's nice that they can count on people to ask before approaching them.
Rachael 1042 Jun 18, 2011 at 11:30 pm
I've been reading all the great comments and I guess I'm the black sheep on this topic. =/ I want people to pet my dogs, whether they ask first or not. Oftentimes, I a little offended when someone asks, "Can I pet your dog?" or "Does it bite?" It's like asking a parent if their child is violent. "If I say hi to your kid, is he gonna punch me in the face?" LOL I have to remind myself to be patient. They're friendly, and they love it as much as I do. Of course, I spent a LOT of time teaching and training my dogs. The more people that pet them "the wrong way," the more people I can educate, and in turn, the more patient and kind my furkids become. 
Amy@GoPetFriendly Jun 14, 2011 at 5:49 am
If only more people were like you, William! Thanks for stopping by.
William Snell Jun 10, 2011 at 8:20 pm
I think people in generally cannot stand to be disliked or ignored, and since dogs are so friendly, not getting a positive response from a dog hurts their egos. My stance is like this - I'm not afraid of dogs, and dogs shouldn't be afraid of me. I try not to alarm them. They also aren't obligated to submit to my attentions. If they want to interact with me, they'll come to me and show it. But even if someone's dog at Petsmart is trying to get to me, I still ask the owner's permission before touching. It's not only common courtesy, it's just common sense. I like my fingers and face to remain right where they are.
Daksocsrusty Apr 21, 2011 at 9:23 pm
Very interesting article. I have not been often guilty of the "don'ts", but I learned a great deal from the "dos." Thank you.
Amy@GoPetFriendly Mar 21, 2011 at 10:59 pm
Hi Bev and welcome to the pack! :-) I agree that the number of people that approach dogs without permission is appalling. We've resorted to non-verbal communication for our dog Ty, who is afraid of strangers. We got him a vest with a patch on it that says "Don't Pet Me, I'm Working" and it's really helped. You can read a bit more about it here if you'd like: http://gopetfriendly.wpengine.com/2010/05/tys-too-sexy/ Thanks for joining us!
Bev Mar 21, 2011 at 10:41 pm
Just found your site after reading the current issue of Highways magazine and am grateful to have found you. We (another couple and my husband and I) travel with 2 long haired dachsunds in our RVs. I has always appalled me the number of people who approach our dogs without asking permission and those who allow and even encourage their children to pet our dogs without asking our permission. They are probably also the ones who would run to the nearest lawyer if they or their child got bitten by one of our dogs. I practice what I preach and never approach another dog without its' owner's permission and then the proper approach to the dog. Your information here is a must read for EVERYONE! Thanks
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[...] [...]
Amy@GoPetFriendly Mar 7, 2011 at 10:43 pm
Way to go, Paul! Yep, it you give them a little respect they usually warm right up don't they? Dogs are amazing - I'm excited for you to retire so you can have one of your own!!
PaulF Mar 7, 2011 at 3:20 am
Thanks for a great post... I can't believe I got them right! I love dogs but don't have one yet (waiting for retirement). But I meet a lot of dogs walking the Metroparks of Ohio. I always say hi to the pet's owner first and introduce myself by stating my full name. Then I ask if it's OK to greet their pet. To me it's just common courtesy. Funny thing about offense 8 is that I really don't believe I'm loved by all dogs but there have been a lot of incidents where a new dog I just met will sit and even lean against me as I talk with their owners. Sometimes I'll get a little growl as a dog walks past me going into the park and on the way out they insist on meeting me. Must be the ignoring - I find myself doing it to humans too.
GoPetFriendly.com and Take Paws Turn 7 Today Jun 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm
[...] post? Easily, it was one of our most recent (a guest post, in fact, by @BoulderDog1) called 11 Tips for Greeting a Strange Dog. There was an incredible number of tweets, retweets, and comments posted by “seasoned” [...]
Boulder Dog » Blog Archive » Summer Vacation May 27, 2010 at 5:16 pm
[...] to two blogs I love: Go Pet Friendly and Grouchy Puppy Both kindly invited me to write guest posts: “11 Tips for Greeting a Strange Dog” and “Please Don’t Leave: Separation Anxiety in Dogs” (In 2 parts, here and here), [...]
Rod@GoPetFriendly May 26, 2010 at 7:49 pm
Thanks for stopping by. I added a comment to your dog park post that you may be interested in reading.
Elizabeth Deitz May 26, 2010 at 3:23 pm
Your blog gave me an idea for a blog. I asked a guest blogger to write about dog park manners. It should appear tomorrow. Feel free to add any ideas or thoughts you have to it.
Rod@GoPetFriendly May 26, 2010 at 2:59 am
Thanks for taking the time to comment. Umm ... if we had a dog that looked like a wolf, unwanted attention may not be a problem! That said, Buster (our German Shepherd) looks offputting, but is actually the friendlier of our two dogs.
Sharon May 25, 2010 at 5:36 pm
What a great post. As the owner of a big dog who sometimes is mistaken for a wolf on our walks in the city, people either avoid us or ask to pet Cleo. Maybe because of her size and my watchful eyes, we rarely are surprised by unexpected interest in her.

What always surprises me though is how often these same people don't use caution or ask for permission when it comes to little dogs on the street. I have noticed little dogs who are not interested in having you approach them.
michelechollow May 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm
Sweet revenge.
Rod@GoPetFriendly May 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm
Thanks, Rob. Credit goes to @BoulderDog1 for the awesome guest post.
Rod@GoPetFriendly May 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm
Having now met me, I would like to think that you think I’m a pretty cool guy. That said, I’m big on manners and civility – both of which have been eroding in American society. From that viewpoint, I think we’ve become a little too casual … a little too assuming ... a little too familiar.
Rod@GoPetFriendly May 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm
Ahhh. Good points. That said, it would NEVER occur to me to try and introduce myself to an unattended dog. What’s up with that?!
Rod@GoPetFriendly May 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm
Thanks for commenting Michele. You know, I don’t mind asking people not to pet Ty, for example. It’s the people who don’t listen – saying “oh, all dogs love me” (#8 on BoulderDog’s list) that really galls me. When we had our first Shar-Pei (dear bashful, but not fearful, Blitzen) I wouldn’t stop people who kept going after I asked them not to pet – knowing that they were going to come away with a handful of drool and lather that accumulated under his chin. Priceless!
Rod@GoPetFriendly May 25, 2010 at 2:38 pm
Yes … I think @BoulderDog1 has really struck a chord with this post. Wouldn’t it be something to start rumpling someone’s toddler at the same time they are trying to fondle our fearful dogs!
EdieJ May 24, 2010 at 8:41 pm
I'll add to the chorus of praise! These are excellent tips and a good reminder to all of us. While I am super conscious of how others treat my shy dog, I sometimes forget that seemingly outgoing dogs don't like to be stared at -- or get a butt rub. Now there's a behavior that humans certainly wouldn't tolerate from strangers!
Rod Burkert May 24, 2010 at 8:41 pm
Yes ... I think @BoulderDog1 has really struck a chord with this post. Wouldn't it be something to start rumpling someone's toddler at the same time they are trying to fondle our fearful dogs!
Rod Burkert May 24, 2010 at 8:39 pm
Thanks for commenting Michele. You know, I don't mind asking people not to pet Ty, for example. It's the people who don't listen - saying "oh, all dogs love me" (#8 on BoulderDog's list) that really galls me. When we had our first Shar-Pei (dear bashful, but not fearful, Blitzen) I wouldn't stop people who kept going after I asked them not to pet - knowing that they were going to come away with a handful of drool and lather that accumulated under his chin. Priceless!
Rod Burkert May 24, 2010 at 8:33 pm
Ahhh. Good points. That said, it would NEVER occur to me to try and introduce myself to an unattended dog. What's up with that?!
Rod Burkert May 24, 2010 at 8:32 pm
Having now met me, I would like to think that you think I'm a pretty cool guy. That said, I'm big on manners and civility - both of which have been eroding in American society. From that viewpoint, I think we've become a little too casual ... a little too assuming.
Rod Burkert May 24, 2010 at 8:28 pm
Thanks, Rob. Credit goes to @BoulderDog1 for the awesome guest post.
michelechollow May 24, 2010 at 7:24 pm
What a great post. I'm guilty on all counts. But since my son was little, I have been more cautious. We always ask the person if we can pet his/her dog. I am going to save this list.
Shauna (Fido & Wino) May 24, 2010 at 4:56 pm
This such a great post! It always really surprises me to see people getting in the face of a dog that is tied up somewhere when their human is nowhere around and they have no idea if the dog is friendly or not. Even if the dog *is* friendly under normal circumstances, having someone in their face could bring out the worst.
Karen Friesecke May 24, 2010 at 4:43 pm
Really great post! So many people don't know how to greet a strange dog properly and that's just asking for a bite.

I used to do a lot of craft shows with my collars. Since most of them were outside in the summer, the spokesdog was allowed to come along. I can't tell you how many people would just come up and maul Jersey while she was sleeping on her "princess chair" My favorite was parents with toddlers that would let their kids come up and grab Jersey by the face while SHE was minding her own business, being a good dog.

I lost some sales giving people "what for" after THEIR kids mauled MY dog WITHOUT asking, but I just viewed it as an on the spot public service announcement. The next time their kids do that they might get bitten by a dog that's not so friendly and kids missing fingers just isn't cool.
Robert May 24, 2010 at 12:07 pm
Great post!