How to Greet a New Dog

woman and dog

By: Katie Waters

It is safe to assume that almost every person has met a dog at some point in their life. Whether it be a friend or family member’s dog, or even meeting a dog that is taking a joyful walk with their owner down the street, we all know the excitement we feel when there’s a chance to make a new furry friend. If you are like me, or any other dog lover I know, your first reaction when seeing an adorable pup is to immediately want to give it all of your attention! However, it is important to be mindful of the proper etiquette when hoping to pet a stranger’s dog, which is to politely ask for their permission before reaching down to introduce yourself. If that particular stranger says “yes!” then that is your invitation to greet that pup, but have you ever really considered the dog’s behavior and body language during these interactions?

As a trainer that specializes in fearful and reactive dogs, I have had many clients come to me with confusion as to why their dog shies away when someone reaches down to pet or greet their dog. Afterall, we were all taught to reach down and let a dog sniff our hands before reaching further to pet them, right? Believe it or not, this is actually an incorrect way to greet a dog! Think about it: why would an animal with a sense of smell that can be up to 10,000 times better than the average human’s need a hand put up to their nose? The reality of it is, leaning down with your hand held out, and looking straight at the dog, can actually be somewhat threatening to the animal.

After years spent observing dogs’ interactions with humans and other dogs alike, I can see when a dog is feeling threatened or nervous in everyday situations because of certain behaviors they exhibit. This brings us back to the question “why is my dog shy when I introduce her to people?” The answer is that in a lot of cases, dogs will fear away from particular body postures and signals that humans may not realize come off as threatening.

It is through no fault of our own that we accidentally frighten our pups. Actions such as reaching out for a handshake when meeting someone new and making eye contact are almost required of us when communicating with other people. Between two humans, eye contact shows confidence and attraction among other positive things. It feels natural! But when interacting with a dog, these silly human tendencies are what trip us up. For dogs, these gestures are intimidating. It is almost like we humans forget that we are interacting with a completely different species of animal that communicates in completely different ways!

So, what is the best way to greet a dog you’ve never met?

First, turn your body slightly away from the dog and crouch down to appear less tall. Approaching a dog head on or in a hovering manner can cause a frightened reaction from the dog. Try not to make eye contact with your new friend quite yet, while calmly calling your new friend over to you. You may toss them some delicious treats and let the dog approach you. If the pup is naturally a bit nervous, that is okay, it may take some time for them to trust a new person.

Taking the time to learn and understand the way a dog communicates won’t only help you with the next dog you meet, but it can also help that dog learn to trust people just a little easier. To have a well rounded pup, it’s important to socialize them with people, but it is just as important to meet dogs halfway by understanding their ways of communication too. If we can learn to retrain ourselves, our dogs will follow in tail.

Katie Waters

Katie Waters has extensive experience with dogs and their behaviors. She has been working with dogs of all breeds, and their families, for over 7 years. Her passion is helping families whose dogs who are fearful and aggressive. She also enjoys working with families whose dogs might not be fearful or aggressive but need help learning to behave properly. She is an animal lover who currently lives in Northeast CT with her husband, 4 dogs, 2 cats, and 6 chickens.