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11 Tips for Greeting a Strange Dog

When we’re out with Ty and Buster, we’re often approached by people who want to meet the dogs. When I tell them that Ty is afraid of strangers and prefers to be admired from afar we often hear, “That’s okay, I’m a dog person!” They then proceed to ignore Ty body language and forget all the etiquette for how to greet a dog.

Woman crouching down to greet a dog that's white and fluffy dog


How NOT To Greet A Dog

There are a litany of offenses that well-meaning humans commit against unsuspecting dogs when they meet for the first time. Who can honestly say they’ve never been guilty of one of these infractions?

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

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

3. Put your face up close to the dog’s face and coo, “Oh, you’re soooo cute.”

4. Spot a dog you want to meet, make direct, unblinking eye contact, and quickly approach the dog making high-pitched vocalizations.

5. See an irresistible bundle of fur and walk up behind the dog to enthusiastically rub his or her cute little rump.

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

7. Notice a sweet dog laying down, crouch over at the waist, and slowly slink toward the dog with your arm outstretched.

8. Believe that because you love dogs, all dogs love you, too, and that you can forego the formalities that ordinary humans should observe.

I’m guilty on several counts … and I’ve been lucky. Any one of these situations could have ended badly for me and, even more tragically, for the poor unsuspecting pup.

Man Greeting Dogs

How Would You Feel?

To understand how these behaviors might be upsetting to a dog, ask a partner to help you. Request that your partner wait until you’ve completely forgotten this conversation, then stare you in the eye while approaching, quickly swish his hand past your eyes, over your forehead, and pat, pat, pat you on the head. (Go on, try it!)

If you have a stealthy partner, you’ll probably duck, twist your face in disgust, and pull away from his reach. If he’s really good he’ll continue to stare, smile and squeal over how cute you are, and then pat, pat, pat you again. My guess is that you’ll duck again and backed farther away. You’re likely to experience feelings of annoyance and possibly anger – and you know this person. Imagine if you didn’t!

Respect Canine Customs

Unfortunately, our dogs are subjected to similarly inappropriate greeting. And then they’re scolded if they respond less than enthusiastically!

Dogs have their own language and protocols for meeting strangers (dogs and people) and, if you’re really a dog person, you’ll respect their preferences. After all, we don’t go to foreign countries and expect the locals to abide by our cultural norms. It’s not fair that the full burden of navigating life with another species should fall entirely on our dogs.

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Woman with dog outdoors, man loading car in background

How To Greet A Dog Politely

So, what’s the best way to greet a dog? Start by asking the dog’s person for permission to greet their dog. If they say no, understand that they’re only doing what they believe is best for their pet and don’t take it personally. Assuming they say yes, follow these steps:

1. Don’t approach the dog. Pretend you’re ignoring her and allow the dog to approach you if she’s comfortable and interested.

2. Avert your eyes. Sustained eye contact signals trustworthiness in most Western cultures, but in the dog world it signals aggression.

3. Either stand straight or squat, but do not crouch over the dog.

4. Keep your body loose and relaxed. Putting on an easy smile or slowly blinking your eyelids will signal to the dog that you are not a threat.

5. Turn your body so you are not facing the dog. Again, being face-to-face is considered polite human behavior, but it can signal aggressive intentions to a dog.

6. If you speak, use a calm, reassuring tone.

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

8.Let the dog sniff your hand, if she wants to, and then gently pet the dog’s shoulder, neck or chest – not on the top of the head.

9. The dog will clearly let you know if she wants more interaction or if she is finished with you. Respect her wishes.

10. For dogs who are deaf or blind, take extra care not to make sudden movements that might startle them.

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




Passing the Sniff Test

When you greet a dog, remember to watch her body language. Keeping your emotions in check and respecting the dog’s signals will make the interaction a good experience for you both. Do you have any other advice for greeting dogs?

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About the Author: Deborah Flick 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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  • Jennifer says:

    One of my biggest pet peeves! I live in NYC and too many people just stick their hand out to pet my dog right in his face without asking me. We’re working on it, but I really wish people were considerate!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • If only more people were like you, William! Thanks for stopping by.

  • 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:

    Thanks for joining us!

  • 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!!

  • Thanks for stopping by. I added a comment to your dog park post that you may be interested in reading.

  • 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.

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