The best way to approach a dog you don’t know

This is something that very few people understand, but most think they do.

Remember holding your hand out so the dog could sniff it?

I guess so many of us were taught this was the right way that it has become a “fact”.

The reality is that many people have been bitten that way and I never approach a dog and do this; I advise my children never to do this either.

In fact, unless in a work capacity, I simply don’t approach dogs I don’t know. More on that later.

approach a dog you don’t know
I don’t agree with greeting dogs like this

What I think is best.

If the occasion arises that I will be meeting a dog that does not know me, I will stop a meter or two away, it is then up to the dog to approach me if he or she is comfortable and the owner permits it, this makes the dog feel more comfortable and gives the owner the respect of at least waiting for permission.

When the dog approaches me, I am gauging the dogs comfort levels, for a nervous dog I may just keep my arms by my side. If the dog is seeking attention I will slowly move to kneel and get close to the same level as the dog.

I can then touch the chest and shoulder, perhaps working to the head and side if the dog is enjoying it.

I don’t overdo it, in fact after delivering some affection I stop after 2 – 3 seconds, if the dog was enjoying it, they will usually push for more now. If they have had enough, they will walk off.

Letting the dog choose when enough is enough is better than forcing unwanted attention on a dog.

The reasons why

  1. I don’t enter the dogs’ personal space, he or she is given the opportunity to enter mine
  2. I don’t approach people’s dogs; I wait for the dog’s owner to give the dog permission to meet me. They may not want to be disturbed, their dog may not like being approached, I respect all of that.
  3. Reaching out a hand is entering the dogs’ personal space; it also gives the dog a target to bite. Do you see dogs meet one another by offering their paw?
  4. It gives many people a false sense of security that if they do this, the dog wont bite. Then they get bitten and blame the dog.
  5. By standing still I am giving the dog time to feel comfortable and approach, rather than rush on in, forcing a dog to defend itself.
  6. Kneeling prevents me stooping over the dog, potentially making them feel trapped or uncomfortable.
  7. Giving affection when the dog seeks it prevents the dog feeling like I am pressuring him or her by reaching out to pet / touch.
  8. Stopping after a couple of seconds gives the dog the chance to ask for more or move off.
approach a dog you don’t know
When given the same dog above the chance, she approached me
approach a dog you don’t know

Why can’t I approach your dog?

This is an interesting and annoying subject for most people. Some are annoyed because people will not let them pat their dogs, and others are annoyed because people just rush up and pat their dogs.

When I am raising a puppy, I am adjusting the dogs’ social value of people and other dogs.

My goal is for my dogs to “like” other people but not “love” them.

“Like” is a value the dogs can have without becoming overstimulated or emotional when they see a dog or person.

This means my puppy will grow up getting along with everybody and everything, but not being so “in love” with them, that I cannot maintain any level of obedience around dogs or people.

More reading available here (link)

So then, when I am walking through town or at a café with a puppy that is very social, I don’t want everyone patting the puppy or every dog approaching. This may be different if I had a nervous puppy.

You would be surprised at some of the reactions and responses I have been given by smiling and saying “no thanks” to people wanting their dog to approach my puppy.

“What?! Why not!” as they try and approach the puppy. Like it is their RIGHT to interact with MY puppy.

Oh no you have to let him meet as many dogs as you can, that is called socializing”. As their unruly dog is squeaking, squealing and lunging into the leash to get to mine.

They just don’t ask, and you see someone coming in fast, hand outstretched.

It’s OK he’s friendly!”. NOPE, it is NOT at all OKAY!

It would be the number one gripe dog owners have against other dog owners. I talk about it all of the time, if you do this, please STOP IT.

I am well aware that you actually have no ability to recall your dog and your hiding it with the “he’s friendly” trick

I am also well aware that you wish to indulge your dogs every desire and this is one of the ways.

But it is illegal, it puts people under enormous stress, it can put some dogs under stress or threat, it is risky for your dog too and it is likely to get you told off (again).

People who don’t own or even like dogs hate to see yours running off leash anywhere near them or their children, and as it is illegal, they could push for our few remaining privileges as dog owners to be removed.

If you care about dogs…

Then the reason you would want to give them affection is to make them happy, right?

So follow my simple rules and teach children and friends to do this as well.

The dogs and their owners will be MUCH happier.

About SteveK9Pro

Steve Courtney is a Nationally Accredited Canine Behaviour Specialist, Obedience Trainer, Law Enforcement Dog Trainer and ANKC Breeder. Steve has been training dogs all his life and in these articles he shares with you his experience...

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  1. blog.k9pro is literally the BEST place to find the best training tips for dogs.
    I’m always reading this blog to help me with my german shepperd,

  2. Great article, thanks for this – I’ve noticed people becoming more aware of this issue compared to a several years ago. Kids unfortunately don’t normally understand though – I’m all for kids to have their own pet, but I’ve had a small kid one time suddenly smother my beagle while we’re out walking, and he’s become slightly aggressive. I now make sure to tell anyone to not get too close, and to not invade his space.

  3. very good article Steve.

    i am not going through this everyday with my boy Max….just as you predicted.

    i have tried collars that say “dont touch”, “police dog”, “military K9”, yet people still just invade his space and try to pat him. Luckily Mas has started warning people they are getting to close for the few times i have missed it.

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