How Do I Greet a New Dog?
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Recently, a news anchor was bitten by a stressed out dog on her show. We asked Petside Advisory Board members for some guidelines on greeting a dog you’re not familiar with.
Nancy Taylor, President and CEO, Bideawee: When greeting a dog that is unfamiliar to you it's wise to follow 4 basic precautions.
- Give the dog some distance asa dog's personal space is very critical to them when meeting a new person or a new dog for the first time. The first thing a person should do when meeting a strange dog is to stop approaching and avoid direct eye contact. In most cases the dog will let you know by the way they approach you if they are interested in meeting you. The body language of the dog is key. If they approach you softly, with a "wiggly" body, soft wagging tail, lack of a prolonged stare- this can be good. Be aware of the dog that is tightly wound, panting heavilyor overly aroused. This may not mean that the dog will bite, but at the least he is not showing sociability. Of course, before even interacting with the dog, be sure to ask the owner if the dog likes people, and how they like to be approached. The owner should know this. Finally, if the dog approaches you, it is still a good idea to allow them to sniff you, while you engage the owner in a conversation. This "no big deal" approach can be highly effective for calming the dog down.
- After it is evident that the dog is willing to make friendly contact, watch for the parts of the body that they make available to you. A dog will usually make it clear what areas they are uncomfortable with being touched. In the majority of cases, dogs do not like to be patted on top of the head, kissed in the face, restrained, hugged, stared at or held tightly. These should be strictly avoided. Always remember, just because the dog does not bite or growl, it does not mean that they like what you are doing.
- When attempting to first pet the dog, do it for a few seconds, then stop. This is a good measuring tool to decide whether or not the dog likes where the interaction is going. If the dog walks away from you after you stop petting, then we know thatthe amount of petting is enough (give the dog some breathing room). If the dog comes back to you with the soft body language, then you know that they like what you are doing and they are "asking" you to continue.
- It is always a good idea to give the dog options when first meeting them. When in doubt, keep the interaction short. You do not want to push the dog to a point where it becomes overwhelming to them. Basically, a little goes a long way.
Marcie Campion, Ph.D., Scientific Relations Manager, Iams Company: Our dog Tucker loves everyone and is very social with both people and pets. Consequently, my three young sons think all dogs are as gentle as Tucker and want to pet them all! The first rule I taught them was to ask the owner if they could pet their dog.
I’ve found that most pet parents are the best judge of their dog’s temperament and can tell when they are stressed or showing warning signs of aggression. Even well-mannered dogs like Tucker have their limits, so I’ve found that asking permission to pet the dog is a good first step.
Mike Arms, President Helen Woodward Animal Center: I know many times people see a cute dog that someone may be walking on a leash, and they walk right up and pet it, and at times bites occur. I always recommend, before you pet someone else’s pet, ask the owner, “Is it ok if I pet your dog?” Why?
Who knows their dog better than the owner? Sometimes a dog will growl or snap at an individual thinking they are protecting their owner. Sometimes the dog may have sight problems and only sees fast moving shadows, and tries to protect themselves. Or this pet somewhere in its life may have been abused and struck by a human hand, and does not know whether your hand is coming to hurt or give compassion. That is why I strongly recommend you ask the pet owner first.