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How to Properly Greet and Approach New Dogs

Dogs are widely known as man’s best friends. They’re loving, loyal, and friendly. But not every dog likes to be approached by someone new. Though you may be one of the millions of dog lovers in the world, it’s essential to know how to greet a dog that you don’t know.

How you greet a dog makes all the difference in whether it responds with affection, fear, or gets defensive. Fortunately, they are fairly predictable, which makes it easy to learn the best ways to approach them. Grab hold of the leash, and let us lead the way!

Approaching a Dog: Avoid Bites and Make a Good Impression

Make a good impression with any dog and its owner by not provoking the dog into biting you, even if accidentally. The dog may act friendly and warm up to you, but that won’t happen if you take the wrong approach.

person greeting a dog with a high five
Most dogs want to love and be loved. If you make a good impression with a dog, you’ll have a friend for life.

Most dogs bite because they feel threatened. For the uninitiated, you may unknowingly startle a dog and put it in a defensive position, which can lead it to respond with aggression. This is especially true the first time you encounter a new animal.

How to Greet a Dog for the First Time

As we mentioned, dog behavior isn’t difficult to anticipate. Most dogs react in a similar way to various actions. That’s why, if you know how to approach dogs, it isn’t difficult to avoid provoking them into biting.

Ask the Owner Before Approaching Their Dog

The first thing you should do when approaching any dog is to ask permission from the dog’s owner. Don’t feel bad if the owner says no. They likely have good reasons why they don’t want someone to approach their dog, which doesn’t reflect a judgment on you.

If the owner isn’t present, even if it is leashed up to a pole or contained inside a dog fence, don’t approach it. If you can’t get permission, leave the dog alone and admire it without direct interaction.

How To Correctly Approach & Greet A New Dog: Parents Teach Your Kids

-> What should you do if you come across a dog that’s been left in a vehicle? Find out here: Is It Illegal to Leave Your Dog in Your Vehicle?

Let the Dog Make the First Move

Always let the dog initiate the interaction. If the dog feels too skittish to move toward you, the odds of it reacting defensively increase if you make the first move.

Don’t even try putting your hand out for the dog to sniff. Beyond visually, a dog will use its sense of smell as part of determining if or how it wants to approach you. 

However, a dog’s sensitive nose allows it to sniff you from several feet away. Your extended hand is unnecessary and more likely to intimidate them than put them at ease.

Greet Dogs on Their Level

Imagine someone two to three times your height stepping in front of you and reaching down to pat you on your head. That could really freak you out.

man petting a husky from the side
Crouching next to a dog to pet them will make them feel more comfortable with the interaction.

A dog reacts very much the same way. Your size can feel very intimidating to dogs; then add the action of reaching out and putting a hand on their head. The dog may react in fear or defense, leading them to either cower away or snap at or bite the hand.

If the dog approaches you, crouch down a little sideways, not directly in front of them. Just like crouching down to talk to a small child, the same approach helps to alleviate the intimidation for dogs.

Don’t Crowd the Dog When Approaching

Be conscious of crowding the dog. Even after the dog approaches you, don’t move too quickly to get in its face. Move slowly and don’t make any sudden gestures. 

A dog doesn’t instantly know your intent and could easily misinterpret your movements as threatening, particularly if you move too quickly.

Woman greeting a dog
Don’t crowd the dog or move towards it in a manner that might feel threatening.

Pay Attention to Their Body Language

Learn how to read a dog’s body language. This is one of the more complicated things to remember when approaching a dog. However, you can pick it up fairly easily once you understand what to look for.

There are a few telltale signs to clue you in on what a dog is feeling.

If a dog is happy and wants to interact, it will likely have an open mouth, relaxed ears, “soft” eyes, a loose body, and a wagging tail. Additionally, it will approach you, seeking for you to pet it. 

Conversely, if a dog is unsure about interacting, it will typically have a closed mouth, lick its lips, blink a lot, turn its head away, and have its ears pinned back. Lowered ears are a huge visual cue. They may also have wide eyes with the whites showing and may try to back away from you or hide.

Mocha and Bella
Even if the owner has given you permission to pet their dog, pay attention to the dog’s body language before you engage.

What Is the Best Way to Pet a New Dog?

If the owner and the dog allow you to pet it, get down on its level, reach from the side or under its head, and pet it on the side or back. Some dogs like being rubbed on their chest, just below the neck. Asking the dog’s owner for its favorite spot is always a good idea. And again, do so slowly and with obvious intent.

Lots of folks naturally go to pet a dog on top of its head, towering over the dog or even from behind. Remember your size. Approaching them from an upright position and reaching down from above can feel threatening and might cause the dog to react defensively.

How to Introduce Your Dog to a New Dog

If you own a dog, you probably already understand the importance of learning how to greet and approach new friends. If you go out on a walk and come across another dog, you need to understand how your pet should approach a new dog.

two small dogs sniffing noses
You should allow your dog to greet another dog with the same courtesy and care as you would greet them.

Not surprisingly, learning about introducing your dog to another follows some of the same principles as learning how to greet a new dog yourself.

-> If you hate leaving your dog behind when you go on vacation, consider booking a stay at one of the Top 10 RV Parks to Go Camping With Your Dog. These parks offer plenty of opportunities for you and your dog to socialize with other dogs and dog owners.

Ask the Owner Before You Let Your Dog Approach

If someone wants to pet your dog, you would certainly appreciate them asking your permission first. It’s courteous and allows you to avoid any situations where you know your dog will feel uncomfortable. The same is true when two dogs meet.

Always ask another dog’s owner if you can introduce your dog to theirs. A dog can feel just as uncomfortable or intimidated by another dog as it can be by a human. As the dogs’ owners, you will likely know what to watch out for in your own pets. This allows for the opportunity to head off any negative interactions before they occur.

Keep on Leash (Try to Avoid Tangling)

It’s always good for each owner to keep their dog on a leash. This allows you to help control the situation if either dog gets aggressive. 

two larger dogs approaching one another
It’s easier to control the situation if both dogs are leashed when meeting for the first time.

Avoid getting the leashes tangled, which could inadvertently put one or both dogs on the defensive, instigating a confrontation. This can also put you or the other owner at risk trying to separate them.

Pay Attention to Both Dogs’ Body Language

Pay close attention to the body language of both animals. Many of the same clues for approaching a new dog apply. But if you sense a conflict arising between two dogs meeting each other, you may notice more hints that things might get out of hand.

If you see either dog with raised back hair, bared teeth, growling, or staring intently at each other, calmly try to keep them apart. Get your dog interested in something else. Once the dog has relaxed again, offer them a treat, reinforcing its good behavior.

two small dogs meeting each other on a boardwalk
Keep both dogs on a leash, allow them to sniff each other, and watch the dogs’ body language for signs of any potential conflict.

Let Them Sniff

When the dogs both feel relaxed, allow them to control the meeting at their own pace. If they feel comfortable, they’ll approach each other and sniff one another. 

This allows them to get to know each other’s smells. Yes, this includes them sniffing rear ends. This is how dogs greet one another, and their smell helps them identify each other.

When in Doubt, Pull Apart

If at any point you feel unsure of how the encounter is going, pull the dogs apart and keep them apart.

If either dog seems uncomfortable or threatened, walk away and maybe try again another day. As humans, we don’t usually appreciate it when relationships are forced on us. It is similar for animals.

a basset hound meeting a Boston terrier on a busy sidewalk
If you feel unsure about the interaction, separate the dogs by gently pulling them apart.

Know How to Greet and Approach New Dogs for Safe and Happy Experiences

Though there are millions of dogs in the world, they all behave somewhat similarly. If you learn some best practices in approaching new dogs, you can have mostly good interactions. The same goes for a dog owner introducing their pet to a potential friend.

Allow dogs to interact on their comfort level, get lower, be slow and intentional with your movements, and keep a close eye on the dogs’ behavior.

That’s really what most of it boils down to, whether you simply appreciate other peoples’ pets or if you have a dog of your own that you want to introduce to others.

You can avoid many negative interactions between dogs and humans or dogs and dogs by understanding how to properly greet new animals. As dog owners and lovers, we can all do our part to make life easier on the animals that we love.

dog shaking a woman's hand

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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