DBPM–The Do’s and Don’ts of Greeting a Dog (repost)

Originally posted 5/25/12

DBPM–The Do’s and Don’ts of Greeting a Dog

We’ve talked extensively about dog body language, why dogs bite, how to prevent dog bites, how kids should interact with dogs and more…but one thing I haven’t yet touched upon is how people should greet dogs or what to do if you are approached by an unfamiliar dog.

How you choose to approach a dog, known or unknown, can be the difference between being bitten and getting away unscathed. Like I’ve written many many times, I am a firm believer that any dog can bite. When I’m greeting new dogs and dogs whom I haven’t seen for a long while I am always very careful with MY body language while paying attention to theirs.

encroach on a dog’s space or bust their space bubble. Don’t thrust your hand toward the dog’s nose/face “so he can sniff you”.

let the dog come to you to sniff first. I don’t have a problem with people lowering their hand (or a closed fist) and a bit away from their body as something the dog can sniff but don’t put it near their face. Let the dog come to you.


stand facing the dog and stare at the dog while smiling. Particularly with fearful or unknown dogs, you definitely don’t want to be staring them down while smiling. When humans show their teeth to one another and give eye contact it’s a good thing…. when dogs do it, not so much. When dogs give eye contact and show teeth it is a potential threat and you don’t want to give off those vibes.

stand with your side to the dog and try your best to not smile (I know, it’s TERRIBLY hard for me to not give a big toothy grin when I’m meeting a crazy cute dog) you can grin but try not to make it a big toothy smile. Instead of staring straight at the dog you can look at the dog then look away or look at the pup but don’t focus on their eyes. If you are greeting a more fearful dog, stand with your side to the dog and just ignore him/her–try not to look at him/her and don’t give eye contact.


lean over the dog while you are petting him/her. So Fido walked up to you for a pet, you don’t want to lean over top of the dog while petting him. This is a mistake that can easily lead to a bite to the face.

kneel or stoop to make yourself less scary if you are trying to win over a fearful dog or to get closer to an extremely friendly and wiggly smaller dog. Kneeling with your side to the dog can be a great way for fearful dogs to feel confident to come and explore you. IF you do not know the dog or the dog has any history of nipping/biting/growling/lunging, this is not something I would do as it puts you in a more prone position with your face nearer the dog–ALWAYS keep an eye on the dog’s body language so you can add distance at the first sign of discomfort.


squeal or jerk your hands up away from the dog. You also don’t want to go from standing loosely to stiffening up and freezing. Think back to doggie body language–the freeze frequently precedes a bite.

try using canine calming signals to help a dog feel comfortable and relaxed. Try doing look aways, lowering your head while looking away, yawning, soft eyes or slow blinking, or mimic lip-licking by chewing gum to help dogs feel more comfortable.


So what should you do if you are approached by an unknown off-leash dog?

Well, I take a few different approaches if I’m approached by an off-leash dog largely depending on reading the dog’s body language.

If the dog is casually walking up with a loose body, relaxed face and wagging tail or if they are rushing in a friendly manner, I generally try to keep my body turned sideways to them while I do some look-aways or yawns. If the dog is at a great distance, I’ll just walk the other way casually keeping an eye on the dog. If the pup is closer to me I generally stay pretty stationary and just let the dog check me out and depending on the situation I may talk to the pup softly and try to make friends (if the pup may be a lost dog) or I’ll just stay pretty still (but not stiff) until I become boring and the dog leaves on his/her own.

If I had been jogging or biking and started being CHASED by a dog, I really try to follow the ‘be a tree’ idea. I stop running or dismount the bicycle and stay pretty still until the dog decides I’m boring and he/she leaves. I really make sure the dog is out of sight before resuming my activity so the dog doesn’t just start chasing again.

If rushed by a dog who is stiff, staring, flagging tail, vocalizing or otherwise posturing (not foaming at the mouth guard dog in attack mode type behavior but alert) one option I’ve heard really useful is to carry kibble/hotdogs/treats/etc with you and if you are approached in a concerning manner, you throw the food at/near the dog’s head. This can startle the dog and then he/she often gets distracted by eating eating the food while you sneakily walk away. I’m very careful about what dogs I use this method with, but I’ve had success standing tall, gesturing a dog to “get back!” while snapping my fingers once, and telling the dog “Get!” “Stop!” “Sit!” “NO!” This ultra-confident body language, with the big gestures, and verbal ‘cues’ are often enough for a dog to realize you aren’t going to be pushed around and they either stop or retreat.

Running from a dog is not a good idea…being a tree or being stationary or offering calming signals to the dog are all great ways to try and diffuse a situation. If it’s not likely to be diffused and you have direct stop or something like it to back you up, posturing back at the dog and telling the pup to get outta there or throw food at the dog as another method to try and get the pup to back off. That is not something I prefer to do right off the bat with dogs if I have the time/space to try other methods to get the dog to disengage–it’s hard to change your tone from posturing/throwing food at a dog to go away to then trying to use calming signals to relax the situation if the dog gets close. It’s never a bad idea to carry direct stop (or similar product) to keep you and your dog safe.

Unfortunately most things will not deter a dog who seriously wants to kill you or your dog.  Sometimes carrying an auto-open umbrella can be helpful, if you you pop it open as the dog rushes up you may startle them or at least you have some tool giving you extra reach and maybe a bit of a barrier to buy you some time.  Carrying a walking stick to be able to defend you our your dog may be helpful.  If it’s legal in your state carrying pepper spray of sorts can be helpful *but* it’s important to know you can hurt yourself or your own dog using this so it can be counter productive.  Having a cell phone to call for help may be helpful and a loud whistle to get people’s attention may be helpful.  If you know of a dog who is a potential problem, my biggest suggestion is to avoid him/her and change walking paths to prevent any issues.

  1. Fantastic blog and so true. — Lisa Matthews Ed.S., CPDT-KA, VSPD, Owner of Pawsitive Practice Training, LLC, Johns Creek, GA 30022

  2. Thanks Lisa! Sometimes it’s the simple things we need to be reminded of 🙂

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