Whether you are out for a stroll or a run, at the beach, park, on the street or even in the shops you may encounter a dog. Your natural instinct might be to rush up to them and give them a pat on the head or a scratch on the tummy but this is not always the best way to approach a canine counterpart as they might get scared or spooked or even become aggressive and bite you.
So what is the best and safest way to approach a dog for the first time? The following are some steps to meeting a canine friend to ensure that you both stay happy and safe.
- Always approach the owner/handler first. If the dog is not on a lead look around for the owner first.
- Always ask the owner/handler if it is ok to talk to and/or pat the dog before getting too close. Some dog’s do not like strangers and others can become very protective of their owners. By speaking to the owner this will help the dog determine whether you are a threat or enable them to relax.
- Avoid direct eye contact as this can be a sign of dominance or confrontation.
- Try to stay relaxed and calm. Dog’s can sense fear and this can alarm them, sometimes causing them to become defensive or aggressive.
- Where possible, position yourself to their side so that you are not in front of them coming directly at them.
- Allow the dog to come to you rather then you approaching them.
- Speak to them in a soft calm voice.
- Do not crouch over the dog, this can be intimidating. Instead stay standing upright or squat down to their level.
- When they seem comfortable with you being around present the back of your hand (in a loosely closed fist) to them allowing them to sniff you.
- Once the dog has sniffed your hand and seems relaxed you can pat them on the shoulder or back with the back of your hand. Don’t pat their head or back end as these are more vulnerable places and can come accross threatening.
- Always let them approach you first rather than forcing yourself on them.
- Stop when they want to stop. Once they have had enough and move away or pull back from your touch, let them, do not follow or continue after them.
Always remember that every dog is different. They all have their own personalities and past experiences and this will determine how they interact with you. Some owners may not want you to approach their dog and some dog’s may not be comfortable with you around. Always respect this, respect the owner’s wishes and respect the dog!
Please remember that you should never pat or interact with an Assistance Dog (Guide Dog or Support Dog that wear a special harness and/or coat). Doing so can distract the dog from their job, which is to look after their human partner.
Originally published in My Pet Magazine Issue 13.
Read all pas issue of the My Pet Magazine online here.