Different human cultures have different ways of greeting people. In Japan, you bow. In Spain, you kiss on the cheek. In the US, you shake hands. Understanding the appropriate way to greet a stranger is key to avoiding social and cultural faux pas. The same goes for meeting new dogs.
Dogs and humans have lived side by side for thousands of years, and obviously we all get along quite well for the most part. To a great extent, these peaceful relations between humans and dogs are a product of dogs’ adaptability to human behavior patterns and interaction styles. After all, humans (and other primates) have very different ways of interacting with each other than do canines, and rather than taking it for granted, dogs tolerate us humans as well as they do! And it all starts with something as seemingly simple as how to say hello.
As a general rule, don’t introduce your dog to another dog on leash without being in clear communication with the other owner first.
WHY UNDERSTANDING HOW TO GREET A STRANGE DOG IS IMPORTANT
You know that one aunt of yours who hugs you a bit too tight for a bit too long, and then pinches your cheek? Yeah. You probably don’t love it when Auntie Muriel comes over. Or what about that socially awkward guy in middle school who stood a bit too close when he talked? I bet Albert wasn’t very popular.
Greeting others impolitely is a great way to fast-track yourself to being avoided. If you want dogs (and their owners) feeling comfortable with you, it’s best to learn how to politely greet new dogs.
You Could ꜰʀɪɢʜᴛen the Other Dog
If you greet a dog inappropriately by coming up too fast, staring, or hugging, you can ꜰʀɪɢʜᴛen them. Even my human-loving lab gets uncomfortable if a random person comes up behind her and tries to hug her.
The Dog Might Not Like Strange People
Some dogs aren’t very comfortable with strangers. Even if you do everything right, some dogs might not want to be near you.
The Owner May Be in a Rush
Some days, I only have 30 minutes for our daily walk. I simply can’t stop every 5 feet to let strangers meet my dog – these stops will mean I can’t get my dog the exercise he needs!
It’s not that I’m unfriendly, or that my dog is unfriendly – we’re just on a tight schedule. Asking permission before meeting a dog avoids forcing the owner into an awkward situation.
The Other Dog Could Be in Training
I take my dogs to local parks around Denver to work on training as we’re getting better at new skills. The last thing I want is strangers coming up to meet my dog when we’re practicing ignoring people and focusing on me! The distraction is too much and it sets back our training back. Just because we’re at the park doesn’t mean I want my dog to meet new people right now.
We all love dog cuddles, but the truth is that hugging a stranger is just plain rude (regardless of whether they have two legs or four).This action can ꜰʀɪɢʜᴛen the dog, and sᴄᴀʀᴇᴅ dogs can bite.
The Dog Could be Doing an Important Job
This might be the most important reason to ask permission and be polite when approaching an unfamiliar dog. We all should know by now not to pet a seeing eye dog or dog wearing a service dog vest. Even if you don’t see a vest, though, a dog could be doing important work. Coming up to greet it, especially inappropriately, may ruin the dog’s focus for the whole day!
Service dogs may help with ᴅɪᴀʙᴇᴛᴇs, ᴇᴘɪʟᴇᴘsʏ, ᴀɴxɪᴇᴛʏ, ᴅᴇᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ, PTSD, or any number of other “invisible” ᴅɪsᴀʙɪʟɪᴛɪᴇs. If a dog is working, don’t bother it.
Greeting dogs politely is key to staying safe. It lets working dogs work, and training dogs train. It lets owners in a rush continue on their walk and it keeps uncomfortable or ꜰʀɪɢʜᴛened dogs inside a safe bubble.
Remember that just because a dog is outside doesn’t mean you have the right to approach it.
POLITE DOGGY MANNERS: HOW NOT TO GREET A DOG
Now that we can all agree that greeting a dog properly is important, let’s talk about how to do it.
It’s great because it reminds us that many of these behaviors are totally unacceptable for human adults or human children. This makes it even easier to remember to not do them to dogs!
Let’s go over the components of a how and how not to greet a dog, in the order they appear on her poster.
1. Greeting a Dog Without Asking the Owner
Why It’s Bad: It’s always a good idea to ask before greeting an unfamiliar dog. They could be skittish, in training, or working. Their owner could be in a rush, or maybe they just don’t feel like stopping their walk to watch you greet their dog.
Try This Instead: Always communicate with the owner about whether or not it’s ok to meet their dog. Most will say yes! They’ll appreciate you asking, though. This goes for “asking” the dog, too. Give them a chance to interact with you.
2. Reaching into a Dog’s Safety Zone
Why It’s Bad: The dog might perceive this as a very real ɪɴᴠᴀsɪᴏɴ of their space. They could bite to protect their space and their stuff.
Try This Instead: If a dog is confined, give it its space. This includes dogs in parked cars, behind fences, or inside crates.
3. Staring and Approaching a Dog Head On
Why It’s Bad: This is pretty ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛening for most dogs. Other dogs might find it so exciting that they forget their training. Staring is very rude for dogs and can even be considered an antagonistic ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛ!
Try This Instead: Approach dogs slowly in an arc. Offer your side, get on their level, and let them come to you.
4. Rushing Up to a Dog
Why It’s Bad: Running up to greet an unfamiliar person would be pretty weird. Dogs may perceive this as scary. Other dogs might get overly excited and jump up. You might be undoing lots of training that the owner was working on to break a bad habit!
Try This Instead: Approach dogs at a relaxed walking pace. Ideally, approach the dog in an arcing motion. Then kneel down with your shoulder to the dog, and look ahead of you – away from the dog.This is the least ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛ ening way to approach a dog.
5. Getting Into a Dog’s Personal Space
Why It’s Bad: Reaching towards a dog, even if you’re just offering your hand for them to sniff, could break their personal space bubble.
Try This Instead: It’s best for the dog to approach you. You can put your hand out for them to sniff, but don’t thrust it in their face! Give them a foot or two of space so they can go at their own pace.
6. Looming Over a Dog and Patting On the Head
Why It’s Bad: This is pretty scary. You’re putting your face right above theirs, so if they jump up you might get hit in the head! When you loom over a dog, you become all they can see. Even well-adjusted dogs (or humans) find this rude or scary. Imagine a man standing right over you on the subway in hopes of petting your hair. That’s not ok!
Try This Instead: Get on their level. I recommend squatting or kneeling down with your side facing the dog. Let them come to you. If they don’t want to, don’t take it personally!
7. Pet Roughly, Pat, or Hug a Dog
Why It’s Bad: Remember Auntie Muriel? Being handled roughly or too closely by those you don’t know isn’t pleasant.
Try This Instead: Pet the dog gently when they approach you. Most dogs like petting in strokes along the same direction as the fur.
8. Getting Too Close to a Nervous or Tense Dog
Why It’s Bad: If a dog looks nervous or tense, give them their space. Dogs show that they’re sᴄᴀʀᴇᴅ by lifting one paw, tucking their tail, staying still, leaning away, or pinning their ears back. Listen to their body language!
Try This Instead: Let the dog approach you at its own pace. Pet them if they lean into you and they stay close, keep petting. If they move away, respect that.
TREAT DOGS WITH RESPECT & ACCEPT THEIR BOUNDARIES
Just because a dog is in a public space doesn’t mean it’s public property.
Remember to ask permission, approach dogs slowly and in an arc. Kneel down and offer the dog the side of your body. Let them approach and only pet them if they lean into the petting.
Just being polite and respectful of the dog and its owner can help prevent all sorts of problems for you, the dog, and the owner!