Not all dogs want to be approached by strangers. If you’ve ever said, “It’s okay … I’m a dog person!” in response to an owner’s warning that their dog prefers to be left alone, this article is for you. 

Woman crouching down to greet a dog that's white and fluffy dog

When we traveled with Ty and Buster, we were often approached by people who want to meet the dogs. When I’d tell them that Ty was afraid of strangers and preferred to be admired from afar we’d often hear, “That’s okay, I’m a dog person!” The person would then proceed to ignore Ty body language and forget all the etiquette for how to greet a dog.

Even people with the best intentions make mistakes when greeting dogs they don’t know. Keep these tips in mind, and you’re likely to have a lot more furry friends.

Mistakes People Make When Greeting A Dog

There are a litany of offenses that well-meaning humans commit against unsuspecting dogs when they meet for the first time. Who can honestly say they’ve never been guilty of one of these infractions?

1. Neglect to ask the dog’s person for permission to meet their dog.

2. Reach over the dog’s head and pat, pat, pat.

3. Put your face up close to the dog’s face and coo, “Oh, you’re soooo cute.”

4. Spot a dog you want to meet, make direct, unblinking eye contact, and quickly approach the dog making high-pitched vocalizations.

5. See an irresistible bundle of fur and walk up behind the dog to enthusiastically rub his or her cute little rump.

6. Approach a dog by looking directly at her and as you near with your arms extended, clap your hands, or click your fingers right at the dog’s face.

7. Notice a sweet dog laying down, crouch over at the waist, and slowly slink toward the dog with your arm outstretched.

8. Believe that because you love dogs, all dogs love you, too, and that you can forego the formalities that ordinary humans should observe.

I’ve been guilty of several of these infractions … and I’ve been lucky. Any of those situations could have ended badly for me and, even more tragically, for the poor unsuspecting pup.

Man Greeting Dogs

How Would You Feel?

To understand how these behaviors might be upsetting to a dog, ask a partner to help you. Request that your partner wait until you’ve completely forgotten this conversation, then stare you in the eye while approaching, quickly swish his hand past your eyes, over your forehead, and pat, pat, pat you on the head. (Go on, try it!)

Charming little Labrador Retriever puppy

If you have a stealthy partner, you’ll probably duck, twist your face in disgust, and pull away from his reach. If he’s really good he’ll continue to stare, smile, and squeal over how cute you are, and then pat, pat, pat you again.

My guess is that you’ll duck again and backed farther away. You’re likely to experience feelings of annoyance and possibly anger – and you know this person. Imagine if you didn’t!


Respect Canine Customs

Unfortunately, our dogs are often subjected to similarly inappropriate greeting. And then they’re scolded if they respond less than enthusiastically!

Dogs have their own language and protocols for meeting strangers (dogs and people) and, if you’re really a dog person, you’ll respect their preferences. After all, we don’t go to foreign countries and expect the locals to abide by our cultural norms. It’s not fair that the full burden of navigating life with another species should fall entirely on our dogs.

READ MORE ⇒  Tips for Taking Your Pet on a Cross-Country Road Trip

Woman with dog outdoors, man loading car in background

How To Greet A Strange Dog Politely

So, what’s the best way to greet a dog? Start by asking the dog’s person for permission to greet their dog. If they say no, understand that they’re only doing what they believe is best for their pet and don’t take it personally. Assuming they say yes, follow these steps:

1. Don’t approach the dog. Pretend you’re ignoring her and allow the dog to approach you if she’s comfortable and interested.

2. Avert your eyes. Sustained eye contact signals trustworthiness in most Western cultures, but in the dog world it signals aggression.

3. Either stand straight or squat, but do not crouch over the dog.

4. Keep your body loose and relaxed. Putting on an easy smile or slowly blinking your eyelids will signal to the dog that you are not a threat.

5. Turn your body so you are not facing the dog. Again, being face-to-face is considered polite human behavior, but it can signal aggressive intentions to a dog.

6. If you speak, use a calm, reassuring tone.

7. If the dog shows interest by sniffing you with a relaxed posture, easy tail wags (not all wagging is friendly), and perhaps looking at you with soft eyes, then you can slowly offer the dog your hand for investigation.

8.Let the dog sniff your hand, if she wants to, and then gently pet the dog’s shoulder, neck or chest – not on the top of the head.

9. The dog will clearly let you know if she wants more interaction or if she is finished with you. Respect her wishes.

10. For dogs who are deaf or blind, take extra care not to make sudden movements that might startle them.

11. If at any time during the interaction the dog backs away, stop what you are doing.


Passing the Sniff Test

When you greet a dog, remember to watch her body language. Keeping your emotions in check and respecting the dog’s signals will make the interaction a good experience for you both. Do you have any other advice for greeting dogs?

About the Author: Deborah Flick is a pet lover who shares her life with Sadie, a shy and fearful standard poodle. She’s currently working toward a degree at “Sadie’s School for Hapless Humans.”

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  • I love dogs. My neighbors dog just loves to come up and greet people when off the leash. I mean the dog literally tried to hop up and kiss me one day. I had just met her (the dog) a couple times. The first time I thought it was nice, (I was having a bad day) the second time, in hindsight I could tell the owner was annoyed and I tried to walk away and not spend too much time giving the dog pets. The owner wouldn’t even speak to me and it felt like they were just trying to get the dog in the house when it ran off and got distracted. They kept calling the dog and then they just gave up with a “fine go say hi”. Any tips on how to be respectful to the owner next time and not be rude? Say hi and move on? We were going in the same direction. Maybe I could’ve kept walking to help the owner out. But, the kisses were fun! I’m sure the owner is training the dog against it and yea it would suck one day if I’m actually dressed nicely.

    • Speaking as a person with a dog who can be “overly enthusiastic” in his greetings, I love it when people ask Myles to sit before they pet him. And if he doesn’t sit, no pets. It teaches him some self control, which is especially important when he meets children or people who don’t want to greet him. But it might be best to ask the dog’s owner if there’s a behavior they want the dog to offer before receiving attention. Having friends who help reinforce the training we’re trying to do is invaluable!

      I also encourage people to try to read the situation. For example, I find it irritating when people ask to pet our dogs while we’re eating at pet friendly restaurants. Getting the dogs to lay by the table so we can relax and enjoy our food isn’t easy. It would be similar to us asking parents of a small child if we could tickle the kid for a few minutes, get them all wound up, and then walk away. It doesn’t sound like that was the situation in your case – you were just walking past your neighbor’s house – but trying to see the situation from the pet owner’s perspective helps a lot.

      Thank you for this question and for being such a considerate neighbor and person!

  • Before reading your advice and other suggestions on various sites on how to greet a strange dog (all saying mostly the same thing), I would have imagined ignoring the dog might hurt the feelings of their owner as it might seem rude!

    • Hi Villoo! Nope, most dog owners I know would rather have you ignore their dog. People are a distraction when you’re working on training, have a fearful dog, or just want your pup to do his business. In most cases, ignoring the pup is the way to go!

      • I agree 110% dogs are usually on alert to protect owner & property!! unless in certain situations like dog parks, dog friendly restaurants & bars. I just had woman walk up behind me and my bulldog TRYING to FORCEFULLY touch him !! he has vest on (in training) I was looking forward and I usually never walk him at night cuz I live on a bad neighborhood but it’s so hot.. but come on #1 rule don’t approach strange dog especially from behind.. I don’t need him to make human friends we have huge family & he does great socializing during the day.. I wouldn’t want a stranger to touch me, my now grown kids and my 4yr old granddaughter – personal space !! I don’t care if it’s a doberman, boxer, chihuahua or now my 3rd bulldog !!
        He just went to vet yesterday for shots and full check up he is still a Lil nervous after thermometer and shots !!
        I’m disabled with my legs, hip, spine, lupus & RA, anxiety – I don’t expect miracles from him just encouragement to walk I’ve been tackled by guy on bath salts checking my Mail, my son & I were shot at when 2 criminals with 3 illegal guns tried to steal my sons truck – so of course I like a Lil protection !! PEOPLE DONT LIKE TO BE TOUCHED OR THEIR KIDS ESPECIALLY FROM BEHIND FROM STRANGER..

  • What if you have never been a pet owner and you go to a kennel which has around 50 German Shepherd dogs all roaming free, how would you deal with multiple strange dogs?

    • Hi Villoo! Thanks for your note. I’ve never been in a situation like that, but my advice would be to ignore the dogs as much as possible and allow them to get used to you. Slow movement and a talking in a calm, soothing voice without making direct eye contact might also help. Good luck!

      • Thank you for the advice Amy. The visit would be a bit daunting and your suggestion is comforting in that I have some idea what to do.

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