How To Safely Greet A New Dog

By Rachel McCabe, Behavior Technician

Ever wonder why that cute little dog tried to bite when all you wanted to do was snuggle?  Surely it must know that you’re a friendly person who loves animals…right? There are many ways to greet an unfamiliar dog but not all are correct or even safe. The incorrect greetings often stress dogs to the point of reacting poorly.

Try to avoid things like leaning directly over the dog or coming right into a dog's face.  This often makes dogs very uncomfortable and wary. Instead keep your voice low and calm when speaking to any dog you’re meeting for the first time. Dogs that are uncomfortable or nervous could find a high pitched voice very nerve racking. Staring directly into a dog’s eyes is confrontational and should be avoided. Also, resist the urge to pet a new dog immediately.

Think about it from the dog’s point of view. You’re walking down the street and a stranger across the way is staring directly at you. You look the other way thinking, “Wow this is awkward…” then look back. The stranger is not only still staring intently but is now coming straight for you!  By now you’re starting to panic and wondering what’s going to happen. As they get closer they begin to shout loudly and reach out to grab you.  Stranger danger! Clearly this person is a threat and you need to protect yourself. Some dogs in this situation may decide to defend themselves by nipping or biting, leaving the greeter wondering what just happened!

Dogs that are threatened commonly react in one of three different ways:  fight, flight or freeze. It’s often the fight response that causes well meaning strangers to be bitten or nipped while attempting to engage interaction with the dog. Because dogs will protect themselves if they feel threatened, it is our job to effectively communicate to them in the doggie language they understand.

Appropriate ways to greet an unfamiliar dog include:

  • Turning your body to the side; this is a non-threatening posture.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with the dog.
  • Let the dog come to you on it’s own terms.
  • Respect the dog’s space; don’t push if they’re not interested in greeting.
  • Allow the dog to sniff you without fear of being forced to physically interact; stand/sit still and let them get a good sniff without reaching for a snuggle.
  • When the dog is ready, pet on the side of their face, body or chin; these areas are more comfortable for the dog and are less likely to elicit a negative response.
  • All petting should be soft and gentle.

It’s important to understand that some dogs may find your presence stressful and may not want to mingle at all while others will need to warm up a bit first. It is important to respect a dog’s space and not push them to be social if they’re not ready. Be aware of your body language and think of socializing from a dog’s perspective. This will help our furry friends be more at ease in social situations.

How To Safely Greet A New Dog

Connecticut Humane Society

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Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society

Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society