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The Do's & Don'ts of Greeting a Dog

The Do's & Don'ts of Greeting a Dog

It’s a scene we see almost every day. Someone approaches a dog to say hi. They reach their hand out, either to pat the dog on the head or for the dog to sniff their hand. Though this doesn’t lead to a bad scene every time, every dog professional cringes when they see this. Somewhere along the way, it became common knowledge that this is how you should greet a dog.

How not to greet a dog, dog greeting

If you ask a group of people how you are supposed to greet a dog, you will likely get a version of this. You might also hear that you should bend down to make yourself level with the dog. The idea is that it gives the dog a chance to sniff you and decide if you are a friend or foe. Now if the dog that is being greeted is extremely friendly, well-socialized, and able to recover from uncomfortable situations, nothing bad will happen. The dog will likely sniff the hand being presented, make friends, and move on with their day. If that dog is nervous, unsocialized, or has low resilience, that motion can be very frightening. You may see a dog express this discomfort by hunkering down low, you might see a little tongue flick, the dog may try to back away, and you’ll likely see the dog avoiding eye contact. If those things go unseen or ignored that could lead to that dog barking, lunging, or even biting. The most common place for someone to be bitten by a dog is the hand and wrist. The way so many people have learned to greet dogs is a big reason why. Approaching a fearful dog like this is unsafe as it put you in a potential bite zone.

Just say, "no" to holding out your hand!

You may be wondering why this common way of greeting dogs is so wrong. There are a few reasons why.

  1. One, approaching a dog in this way takes away their options. Particularly if the dog is on a leash.

  2. Two, when you reach your hand out to a dog, you will naturally be leaning over them. This can be very threatening to a dog and make them feel uncomfortable.

  3. Three, eye contact can also be threatening. Sustained eye contact in the dog world is a direct threat and can be taken that way when a human does that as well.

So if this is all true should I kneel down, making myself smaller and therefore less of a threat? In most cases, the answer to this is also no. The second most common place for dog bites is the face. Coming down to the eye level of a dog who is scared or nervous gives them a very dangerous target to lunge for and it takes away your ability to react quickly. Though making yourself small may diffuse some tension, the risk isn’t worth it as there is a better and safer way!

How to greet a strange dog

How do I greet a strange dog?

The answer is… you don’t. The best way to greet a strange dog is by letting them greet you. Empower them by giving them a choice. Stand there in a neutral posture, with your side to them if possible. Don’t make direct eye contact, let them sniff you and read their body language with your peripheral vision. If you think you have more to learn about body language, check out our webinar here. If you see a dog that is wiggly, loose, and inviting, then you can engage with them. Avoid reaching over a dog’s head, instead go under the chin and start with a chest rub. If you see a stiff dog, who looks uncomfortable, wait until they leave and move on.

One final word, always ask permission to greet a dog you come across. Ask the human, "May I pet your dog?" If the answer is no, simply smile and compliment them on how cute their dog is instead. If the answer is yes, then ask the dog. If the dog says no then the answer is no. You'll make more dog friends another day! Listen to what a dog says with their body language, it speaks volumes!

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