So you’ve received permission from both the owner and the dog and you’re ready to greet a new canine friend. Here are some tips for doing so in a way that is non-threatening to the dog.
1. Turn your body sideways – While it is normal and acceptable for humans to greet each other face to face, polite dog greetings generally involve angling and arcing the body. Turning your body sideways will make you less intimidating to the dog.
2. Consider bending low – If a dog is nervous, he may feel more comfortable if you slowly crouch down (body still oriented sideways) and wait for him to approach you.
3. Avoid direct eye contact initially – Dog trainers get lots of practice using their peripheral field of vision.Direct, prolonged eye contact can be read as a challenge by both dogs and people. (Ever had a stranger stare at you? Awkward!)I usually practice “look aways,” which are a calming signal in canine body language. Glance at the dog, glance away in the opposite direction. I may occasionally use additional calming signals (actions which convey “I’m no threat to you!”) when greeting a particularly shy dog like licking my lips or yawning, particularly if the dog is offering these signals (mirroring the dog’s body language like this can help them relax substantially).
4. Do not reach toward the dog – Hold your hand at your side, lower than the dog’s head, with your palm facing up.Wait, and allow him to approach to sniff.If he is unsure about you, he may sniff your hand and quickly back away. Do not reach after him as he backs away.
5. Know where to touch the dog – Instinctively, people seem to want to pat dogs on the head. The trouble is, most dogs really don’t like this.Once the dog is actively seeking contact with you, sniffing your hand or perhaps nudging your hand with his nose or cheek, you may pet him.
You can ask the owner, “where does your dog like to be pet?” or try some of these places dogs commonly like to be gently touched:chest, shoulders, side of face, behind the ears.Move slowly, allowing the dog to see your movement and to move away from you if at any point he looks uncomfortable.If you notice any calming signals (look away, yawning, lip licking, scratching, etc.), give the dog a bit more space. If the dog is actively soliciting contact with you, you may be able to graduate to a butt scratch, which many dogs love!You may also, slowly, stand up and turn your body so that you are facing the dog more squarely.If this seems to make him nervous, either back off or turn your body away from the dog again.