How To Approach An Unfamiliar Dog

Attacks by dogs in the United States result in an average of 12 deaths a year. Knowing how to carefully approach an unfamiliar dog can save undo injury to you or someone you know.

By Laura Pakis, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Blogger

It is best to avoid contact with a dog unless the dog is on a leash and the owner is present and invites you to approach and pet the dog.

Even when given permission use precaution and follow these tools to help make the interaction go smoother.

  1. Recognize signs of aggressiveness such as barking, growling, snarling with teeth bared, holding the ears erect or tight against the head, holding the tail up stiffly, keeping the legs rigid, or bristling the hair. Keep your distance from a dog exhibiting any of these signs, even if the dog is wagging his tail.
  2. Approach the dog using peripheral vision and with your body sideways. This is less threatening than heading straight on staring at the dog.
  3. Squat or crouch in front of the dog and allow him to approach you before attempting to pet him. Avoid bending from the waist as this overhead position may frighten the dog.
  4. Avoid reaching out to touch the dog, even if he appears to be friendly. The dog may interpret this as a threat.
  5. Don’t make any fast movements or loud noises as you approach the dog. This may excite him and encourage him to attack.
  6. Keep a fist and hold the back side of your hand out to allow the dog to sniff it. Never use an open hand or raised body part over the dog’s head. This can be taken as threat.
  7. Once the dog has accepted your presence, pet his ears, and gently massage inside of them. A little of the dog’s scent will be on your fingers, and the next time you extend your hand, he’ll be friendlier because you’ll smell like him.
  8. Use the back of your hand to pet him. It will feel like less of a handgrip to the dog.
  9. When leaving, it is best not to turn your back on the dog. Rather walk backwards

Using these tools will make you the “dog whisperer” of the neighborhood, and may save that unexpected nip from happening.

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