Greeting a dog

How to approach a dog

Dogs are man’s best friends, and like all friends we bump into unexpectedly when out and about, it’d be rude not to say ‘hello’, wouldn’t it? Plus, dogs are furry and cute, which means humans often want to give them a fuss when they greet them. When greeting a dog you don’t know or you’ve only met a couple of times so you’re not that familiar with each other, it’s really important to remember to ‘think dog’ and put yourself in their shoes.

If someone you didn’t know rushed over to you in the street and put their hands on you, you would quite rightly be more than a little on edge. While some dogs aren’t in the least bit bothered about these out of the blue greetings, they do make other canines worried. 

There are other reasons a dog won’t always greet you with wiggly over-the-top excitement, and you shouldn’t take it personally. While some dogs really enjoy being stroked by people, others have much less of a desire for a fuss; it doesn’t make them worried, they just don’t care for it. Fluctuating temperatures can also change a dog’s mood; just like us, the heat can make some dogs downright irritable. Giving dogs more choice in whether to interact with you or not, can in fact help build better relationships and help keep both people and dogs safe and happy.

Dogs that feel threatened or fearful are more likely to use various behaviours to tell you to go away (which could, in extreme cases, include biting), so following rules for successful greetings will keep everyone safe.

How to approach a dog for the first time safely

Follow our top tips for both children and adults for greeting unfamiliar dogs on the lead safely:

  • Think. Always take a moment to decide if you really need to stroke the dog. Remember they may be busy playing with their owner, having a bad day or happy going about their business. Follow our  three Cs of Canine Choice. 
  • Check. Always ask the owner if it’s OK to stroke the dog. If the owner isn’t around – perhaps the dog is tied up outside a shop, or is a little bit further behind the dog on a walk – don’t approach the dog or say hello until you’ve spoken to the owner and they have given you permission to do so.
  • Call. Call the dog to you by patting your legs gently and saying “hello”. This gives the dog a choice in whether they want to be stroked or not.
  • Count. If the dog comes over to you, you can stroke their shoulder nearest to you (but don’t lean over the dog). Count three strokes on their shoulder and then stop, giving the dog the choice to move away if they wish.
  • Tip: Even if the owner has said it’s ok to say hello, remember to check the dog’s body language is happy and relaxed before you go ahead. If the dog doesn’t come over to you, that’s ok too. Don’t take it personally. Respect their choice and move away.
  • However much you’d like to, don’t hug the dog. While hugging is a sign of affection for humans, holding a dog close to you tends to make them feel threatened and worried.
  • If the dog turns or moves away from you, they’re telling you they’d rather you didn’t stroke them just now, so it’s time to stop
  • Listen to the dog’s owner. They know their dog best and know where their pet does and doesn’t like to be petted. They can also tell you when the dog has had enough.
  • Always be calm, quiet and move slowly around pets
  • If the dog is off the lead playing, then it is best to leave them to enjoy what they're doing


  • If a dog doesn’t want to be fussed, don’t force them.Respect their choice to not interact.
  • All dogs are individuals and have their own personalities, so don’t be disappointed if you’re a real dog person but this one dog you’ve just met doesn’t want to approach you. Some dogs find strangers really scary, and others just aren’t bothered about fuss from people in general.
  • If an owner says "no" when you ask to fuss their dog, respect that. Don’t be offended; there will be a valid reason why, and it’s most likely because they know their dog is uncomfortable around strangers and they’re trying to keep everyone safe.
  • Following the three Cs of Canine Choice will help keep you and the dog not only safe but happier too
— Page last updated 26/05/2023