If you’re a dog lover, it’s hard to resist wanting to pet and cuddle them at first sight. However, not all dogs behave and react in the same way. Therefore, it’s best to take a cautious and responsible approach whenever you meet a new one. In this guide, you’ll learn five tips for making your initial encounter with a canine safe and successful.
1. Respect the Dog and Their Owner’s Space
Before you approach an unfamiliar dog, always ask the owner if it is okay to interact with their dog. Never invade a dog’s space and force yourself upon them. Once the owner has given you permission, let the dog come to you. If the dog approaches you first, it’s not necessarily saying “Pet me!”—it might just be curious.
When dogs greet one another, they usually approach to the side or rear. You should mimic this behavior by not approaching a dog head-on, but instead by turning your body sideways. If you can, squat down so you are level with the dog, but avoid making eye contact as that may seem confrontational to the dog. Definitely avoid bending over the dog because even a smiling face can be scary to a dog when it is looming over them.
2. Keep Your Hands by Your Sides
By taking things slow and easy, it will help keep the dog calm as it gets to know you. Because every dog is unique, you need to pay close attention to how the dog is responding, and listen to the owner. For example, many dogs appreciate you extending a hand for the dog to sniff, but some dogs may be afraid. Therefore, it’s best to keep your hands by your side, and when the dog is comfortable, give the dog a scratch under their chin or on their side. Avoid reaching over the dog’s head or trying to pet their head.
3. Listen to the Dog’s Body Language
Just like people, dogs have different personalities and moods. Sometimes even a friendly dog simply wants to be left alone. Until you are well acquainted with a dog, never try to hug or be overly affectionate with them—no matter how cute the dog is. Positive signs that a dog is open to interaction include an open mouth, a loose body, relaxed ears and face, and an easy wag of the tail.
If you encounter a dog that appears tense and stiff, with ears pinned back against its head and a tucked tail, the dog is probably scared and if provoked could bite. Always ask the owner or the person in charge if you can give the dog a treat. To be on the safe side and avoid a dog lunging at your hand, you can place a few treats on the ground. If the first encounter doesn’t go well, let the dog be and try to bond at another time.
4. Don’t Indulge Bad Behavior
If a dog jumps on you, the best course of action is to simply turn away or take a few steps back. Unfortunately, many people will respond by saying to the owner, “Don’t worry, it’s okay.” However, the dog owner reacts, it’s better to not encourage bad behavior. Most responsible dog owners work hard to train their dogs, and interactions with strangers are a good way to teach their pups proper etiquette.