For anyone who loves dogs, we want all dogs to love us too. When we spot a fluff ball, we notice it, and our brains automatically go into that dog analyzing mode – what a cute pup; what a big dog; what a noisy dog; I wonder what breed that is – and we want to get up close.
Meeting a dog for the first time can be exciting for a dog lover or a pet-loving child. But can be uneventful for one who isn’t interested in dogs.
It can be a terrifying experience for anyone who has had a previous bad ordeal with a dog or those with minimal familiarity with our canine companions.
No matter our experiences or level of appreciation for dogs, all are different, and it is how they see us which determines their reactions to meeting a human for the first time. We can never assume that a stranger’s pet is as friendly as your dog.
That dog does not know you. It may feel threatened by you, and if you approach the dog quickly, it will instantly think, ‘I must defend myself!’
Meeting A Dog For The First Time
How to Approach a Dog
The best advice here is not to approach a dog. Let the dog come to you if possible. Walking fast or running up to a dog (which is quickly done by an excited child) can be very intimidating to a dog. Take it slow and be calm and quiet.
A dogs’ best sense is its smell, so let them sniff you before you attempt to touch it. Your scent will tell the dog a lot about you. They will know if you are threatening, scared, or just pleased to see them.
Like humans, their body language can tell us a lot. A dog with a wagging tail is generally a happy or excited pooch. If their tail is down between their legs, they are scared.
If the tail is upright, this could be a sign that they feel threatened and they are trying to make themselves bigger – especially if coupled with their hair on their back standing upright – raised hackles!
When a dog’s hackles go up, it is an involuntary reaction and can mean they are afraid, excited, nervous, angry, or just unsure. Whatever the reason, it is a sure sign that you need to give the dog some space.
Let the hound control the interaction. The dog may walk around you, which is okay, and don’t be tempted to walk after it.
How to Greet a Dog Appropriately
Now that the dog has approached you and given you a sniff, it is a good idea to talk to the dog. Talk slowly and calmly and move carefully with no sudden movements. Use a soft voice without raising your tone.
You need to gain its trust, and to do this, you must remain unthreatening and kind. Stand straight or squat down, but do not bend over the dog, especially with outstretched arms. This can be interpreted as a threat to the dog.
Another action to avoid is direct eye contact with it. Staring into a dog’s eyes is a sign of dominance, so it can cause the pooch to react in the way of conflict. As you have just met the dog, avert your gaze, and this will show them a sign of your submissiveness, making the dog feel more comfortable.
Common Mistakes People Make
- Running up to a dog they don’t know;
- Not asking for permission to touch it from the dog’s owner;
- Reaching over to pet it;
- Putting their face right up close to the dog’s face;
- Using a high pitched tone of voice or yelling at the dog;
- Walking up behind it, frightening it;
- Bending over it with arms outstretched;
- Putting your hands near its face;
- Petting it on the head;
- Hugging the dog;
- Quick movements – Like raising your hand near it.
See it From the Dog’s Perspective
When we don’t know a dog’s background, we do not understand how it was treated in the past. All dogs, just like people, are different, and personalities vary, so reactions to diverse situations also vary.
If a dog is tied up or on a leash, it knows it cannot getaway. On top of that, if it feels scared or threatened, it will react in a completely natural way to a dog, and that is to protect itself. How does a dog defend itself? By biting!
If it’s timid and sees a hand coming for it from a stranger, it may instantly think that this hand is going to harm it, so there is no surprise that it will try and protect itself with a snap of the teeth, even when usually a placid natured pet.
An injured dog can also see a person approaching as a threat as to hurt them. Imagine being in pain and then someone trying to touch you or move you. We can communicate by talking. A scared and sore dog is unable to tell us, so it wants us to keep clear – and if we don’t – then the dog does what they know best to protect itself.
It is essential to educate children about the dangers of dogs and their erratic behaviors. Not all dogs are cute fluffy playthings, and not all dogs realize that children are not a threat and want to play.
We need to realize that hounds have evolved from wolves and still have protective instincts. They are not immediately aware that some people, although exhibiting threatening behavior, are trying to be friendly. In essence, it is always the best idea to treat any dog as dangerous and approach with caution.
Generally, dogs are intelligent creatures and don’t want to harm us any more than we do them. They cannot always understand us, and we cannot always understand them, so the best practice is for us to behave in a manner they find unthreatening.