How to Safely Approach a Dog

May 6, 2019   Tracey Aston   Pet Safety

Who doesn't love a cute dog? Those puppy eyes and soft fur and unconditional love are only a few ways dogs have made it to man's best friend status.  People see a cuddly dog and their first thought is to approach it, this is especially true if they have a furry friend at home and feel safe in their presence but, not all dogs are safe to approach. For this reason it's imperative to how to approach a dog, whether they are encountered at the park, on a walk or at a friend's home. 

Please be aware, even if you have met this dog in the past, still always approach cautiously. The dog might not recognize you right away if you meet up somewhere other than where the dog is used to seeing you.   Just as we do, dogs have bad days - they may be in pain, stressed by an earlier situation or in an unfamiliar area and in those cases, would react much differently than when you met them on your friend's couch.  

Never approach a dog, let the dog approach you.  Even if the adult with the dog says it's okay to pet the dog, the dog might not want touched. Ask the dog and let the dog choose if it wants to interact with you.  Do this by patting your leg and asking the dog if they want interaction by saying “Here puppy, here puppy.” If the dog comes to you they are open to interaction.  

Slowly walk sideways toward the dog – don't walk directly at them or reach out to the dog, as this could be seen as an aggressive or threatening move. Have your hand next to you and not reaching towards the dog. You want the dog to understand that you will do him no harm. Remember, the dog doesn't know you, either.  Make a fist and hold it down at your side and allow the dog to sniff it. You're less likely to be severely injured with a closed fist than an open hand. 

When first meeting a dog, begin by petting under the chin, the reason for this is it's more difficult for a dog to turn their head downwards quickly, whereas, if your hand is above their head, they can reach up to bite you with ease.

Start by only petting the dog for 3 seconds. If the dog wants more they will lean in or move closer to the petting hand. This may seem like a very short time, but think of how long someone gives a handshake when first meeting another person. At this point, you're simply introducing yourself to the dog. 

Don't excitedly run up to a dog. An unknown dog could be aggressive to people, or not like children, or not have experience with children. Timid or shy dogs will react out of fear and can become aggressive. 

Don't stare directly into the dog's eyes, they can see that as a challenge and react negatively. You don't know this dog and this dog doesn't know you. Don't come up behind a dog or startle it. 

Allow personal space! Never put your face in a dog's face! Don't try to hug a dog especially around the neck, or lean over a dog or attempt to pick up their feet to “shake” or manipulate the dog in any way. 

Don't force dogs to do something they don't want to do – even if your dog at home tolerates a behavior, that doesn't mean all dogs would.  Don't grab at their face, tails or paws. If you notice the pet is moving away from you, licking their lips, getting wide eyed or continually yawning these could be signs the dog is becoming stressed and it's time to end the visit.  If the dog becomes instantly stiff and freezes move away immediately – they are planning to lunge or bite. 

Some dogs are friendly and open to interaction and some are not, just like people. A dog could be stressed, in pain or not used to children. Knowing how to approach a dog and how to respect their space will go a long way in reducing the number of bite incidents each year. 

 
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