By Katelyn Schutz, CPDT
Love dogs, but not sure about the right way to say “hello” to one? Want to teach your children the safest way to greet an unknown dog? As a dog trainer and professional dog walker and pet sitter, I meet hundreds of dogs a year. Follow these tips to ensure a successful greeting with a new pooch!
DON’T: Assume the dog is friendly, or wants to be approached
DO: Politely ask the owner first if you can approach and interact with the dog
As a professional dog walker and pet sitter, I cannot say enough how much I appreciate when someone ASKS if they can approach the dog(s) I’m walking. Not every dog is friendly, or feels comfortable around strangers. Get in this habit — and teach your children — always ask before petting.
DON’T: Run up to the dog, or approach head-on
DO: Make a sideways approach, and stay loose in your posture
Particularly for kids, it is hard not to get excited when you see a cute puppy, and run right up to it. But this is one of the worst things you can do when approaching an unknown dog. Head on, forward approaches can be considering an offensive threat to a dog. Imagine if a total stranger came running up to you and got right in your face without permission! Instead, turn 90 degrees and approach sideways. Don’t tense up, or the dog will sense this and potentially get nervous, so stay loose and fluid in your body posture. When I greet a new dog, I kneel perpendicular to the dog (sideways approach) to make my stature smaller and less threatening. By facing away from the dog, it allows the pup to make it’s own decision on whether or not it wants to approach.
DON’T: Initiate petting, or pat the dog on top of the head
Never pet an unknown dog, unless the dog initiates touch. That dog does not know if you are safe or a threat, so until it decides which you are, leave it be. Also, when petting, never pat the top of the head. Though they may tolerate it from their own humans, dogs typically hate this, particularly from a stranger. Many pups will get nervous and “hand-shy” when they can no longer see where your hand is going. Reaching over the top of the head to pet an unknown dog could be perceived as a power play, causing the dog to snap at you as a means of conflict control. I see this happen more often if the dog is entrapped and cannot flee (for example: on a short leash, or in a kennel/crate). Don’t reach over the dog; instead, offer a low, non-threatening hand, and allow the dog to approach you for a sniff or pet.
DON’T: Stare at the dog, or look them directly in the eye
DO: Blink a lot, and make soft, indirect eye contact
Direct stares are considered an offensive challenge in the dog world. Never lean over a new dog and stare them in the eye. This will undoubtedly confuse and conflict them. Instead, mimic friendly eye contact, which includes lots of blinking and look-aways (brief soft eye contact, immediately followed by a relaxed look away). Never grab an unknown dog’s face and stare directly into their eyes. Believe it or not, this idiocy has caused several dog bites to the face, endangering not only the human, but now the life of a dog with a “known” bite history. Prevent this trauma by following these do’s and don’ts!
Seasons greetings to all!