How to safely meet a new dog

Dogs are the best, aren’t they? They’re loyal, they love us unconditionally … and they’re just so darn cute we want to pet them all! But please, please don’t just run up and start petting a dog you don’t know. That’s like walking up to a stranger and giving them a hug!

Yes, most dogs love affection, but much like people, what some dogs love, others despise. Where people run into trouble when interacting with them—and we see this often at the Dumb Friends League—is that they assume every dog enjoys receiving pets and attention the same way their pup at home does or the pooch they grew up with did.

Let’s first talk about one rule we have here at the Dumb Friends League regarding dog greetings: never, ever put your face in front of the face of an unknown dog.  This can be seen by the dog as a threatening posture and, you know what happens when dogs feel threatened? They bite. Not good. So please just don’t do this.

Now, how do you safely meet a new dog? Here are some step by step tips to ensure a positive experience for both you and the pup!

  • First, ask the dog’s owner if it’s OK to pet him. If the owner says no, respect that and move along.
  • If the owner says yes, hold your hand out half way—don’t stick it right up to the dog’s nose—and let the dog sniff you.
  • Watch the dog’s body language—is he wagging his tail, are his eyes and mouth loose, is he showing signs that he is comfortable with you? Or is he avoiding eye contact, visibly shaking or showing other signs of fear?
  • If the dog is showing relaxed postures, it’s acceptable to pet him. The shoulder is usually a safe and desired spot for most dogs. You may even want to ask the owner where he likes to be pet.

It’s really that easy! Following those simple steps can keep both pets and people safe. By respecting animals, watching their body language and understanding what it means, we can all have positive interactions with pets.

If you want to learn more, or have other questions about pet behavior, view our pet behavior handouts. There you will find a wealth of resources for behavior concerns, as well as other general pet care information.