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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.

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 safely:

  • 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.
  • 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
  • Put out your hand and let the dog sniff it. Don’t move your hand towards the dog; let them come to you.
  • If the dog seems happy, stroke them on the shoulder or chest. Aiming for the face isn’t a great idea as the dog could see this as an invasive place to be touched by a person they don’t know.
  • After a stroke or two, stop and see what the dog does. If they ‘ask’ you to continue by nudging or leaning into you, carry on fussing if you feel comfortable.
  • 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 anxious.
  • 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

Remember

  • If a dog doesn’t want to be fussed, don’t force them
  • 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 gives you the cold shoulder. 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.

— Page last updated 24/07/2017