With so many dog lovers around, the odds of people and dogs occupying the same sidewalk or park bench at the same time have risen. For the most part, that’s a good thing. Being outside is good for everyone’s health and well-being. But when people don’t know how to act when a dog walks toward them, it can lead to problems. Many people, especially kids, tend to want to approach dogs and will do so with far less fear than many older people. And while people and kids should not be afraid of well-behaved dogs, they should all be cautious.
So how do you approach an unfamiliar dog? Here are some do’s and don’ts:
- Don’t approach the dog. Always let the dog approach you, no matter how friendly it looks. This allows the dog to determine that you are safe before he interacts with you.
- Always ask the dog’s owner for permission to meet or pet their dog.
- Stay relaxed. Tension tells a dog that you are a threat, so try to keep your body language relaxed by smiling and staying calm.
- Sniffing is the dog’s way of getting more information about you. Let the dog sniff you and let him take the lead on what to do next.
- If at any time during the interaction the dog backs away, stop what you are doing.
- To most people, eye contact indicates trustworthiness, but not to a dog. In the dog world it signals aggression or threat. Don’t make eye contact with the dog until you are sure he is comfortable with you.
- Turn your body so you are not facing the dog. Again, being face-to-face is polite to most of us, but can signal threat or aggressive intentions to a dog.
- Respect his space. Don’t bend over the dog. It is much better to kneel down and turn your body slightly sideways.
- Offer to let the dog sniff your hand before you touch him. Then you can gently touch the dog on the shoulder, neck or chest, not the top of the head. Reaching over their head is intimidating.
- Don’t worry if a dog doesn’t like you. The more you pursue a shy dog, the more it convinces them that you are a threat. Back away, discontinue eye contact and give him a chance to get to know you on his terms.
If more people become aware of how to properly approach and behave around dogs, the risk of bad reactions can be minimized. No matter how well trained, dogs are still animals and if they feel threatened, they will protect themselves by barking loudly, growling or biting.