How To Greet a Dog (and How Not To)
How To Greet a Dog (and How Not To)

How To Greet a Dog (and How Not To)

Every dog that you come across will be different. How you might greet your own dog or a dog you know will likely differ from how you greet an unknown pooch. When greeting a dog, the goal is to create a calm environment that minimizes the risk of excessive barking, nervousness, or even aggression from the dog.

The best thing to do is learn more about canine body language to better understand if a dog is enjoying your greeting or wishes to disengage. This can help prevent any harmful interactions between you and the dog.

To learn more about the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of how to greet dogs, keep reading!

What To Do When Greeting a Dog

Whether you see an unfamiliar dog approaching you on-leash or you are being introduced to your friend’s dog inside of their house, there are things that can help ensure the meeting is relaxed and positive.

For starters, whoever is handling the dog will likely inform you of the best way to greet that specific dog. They might have some specific needs or considerations to keep in mind based on Fido’s history or what their dog trainer recommends.

Listen to what their human parents have to say to succeed in making a new canine friend. If you yourself have a shy dog who you want to introduce to the world, check in with AskVet’s dog training resources for tips and tricks.

In general, there are a few things to do when meeting a new dog that will help you gauge how the interaction is going. Dogs have very specific body language signals that they send out to let people and other animals know how they are feeling. Once you’re able to pick up on some of these signals, meeting a new dog becomes a lot easier.

Ask First

While this one might seem obvious, ask first so you don’t infringe upon a dog’s personal space.

It’s very important to teach this lesson to children as they approach dogs, especially since many dogs who haven’t seen babies don’t understand what these tiny humans are (which naturally makes them nervous). You can’t run up to a dog or advance towards them head-on without asking their human, as it could seriously startle the dog, causing an adverse reaction.

This is the easiest way to keep you safe, as that dog’s human might tell you that they aren’t interested in being approached. But don’t worry: There are plenty of other dogs in the world that will want to be pet!

Let Them Come to You

If their human does say that you can greet the dog (hooray!), allow the dog to come over to you. Crouch down to let the dog come over near you. For a shy or anxious dog, this helps them recognize that you’re not a threat. You don’t want to move too quickly towards them, as that might cause them to jump back or become reactive or protective.

If the dog sniffs you and decides to distance themselves from you, they are making it clear that they are looking for some personal space. Encouraging them with a treat can help, but make sure you are tossing it to the dog — you don’t want them to come to you because they want the treat and realize they accidently are closer to you than they are comfortable with. Give them time to come around to you, and you’ll see the greatest results.

Remain Calm

You don’t want to wind the dog up and make them act out, so try to remain calm during the interaction. Speak with a low voice, and don’t make any sudden movements.

Behave as you normally would and continue conversing with their human so they can get used to the sound of your voice. While the pup’s family members might be able to greet them with a high-energy hello (perhaps with some zoomie-activating running), strangers don’t quite have this privilege.

Use Caution

When everything seems to be going well, you can attempt to pet the dog. It’s advised that you pet the dog on their chest, side of the face, neck, or back rather than over the top of their head.

These positions are more neutral and don’t have your hand hovering over their face. If you happen to notice any signs of stress or agitation with the dog, slowly remove your hand from their space.

Caution is exceedingly important when it comes to approaching a lost dog. Go slowly, talk calmly and softly — you can even hold a treat or two. For a lost dog approach, never run or chase.

While deep down, we feel that strange dogs are simply friends we haven’t met yet, safety needs to come first. If it’s not safe to capture and contain this lost pup, call animal control or similar who knows better how to deal with a potentially aggressive dog in a safe (yet loving) manner.

What Not To Do When Greeting a Dog

Even more important than what you should do is what you shouldn’t do when meeting a dog for the first time. There are certain actions and behaviors to avoid doing to enhance your chances of success.

Certain human behaviors can make a dog anxious, so we will want to avoid them when being introduced to a new dog. Additionally, if the dog’s human asks you not to do something specific, listen to them — they know their dog best, after all.

Avoid Making Eye Contact

Direct eye contact with a dog can be perceived as threatening, so you want to avoid it at all costs. Specifically, prolonged eye contact can come across as a challenge. It’s okay to catch a dog’s eye, of course, but keep your face soft and demeanor friendly and light so that they don’t get the wrong impression.

Even though you aren’t gazing lovingly into their eyes (yet), monitor their body language. A wagging tail isn’t always a sign of happiness. A low, slow wag could indicate fear or apprehension.

Don’t Force an Interaction

If the dog that you’re greeting does not want to be petted, do not pet them. It can be hard as a dog person not to love on every dog we meet, but it’s simply manners.

Don’t force a dog into a situation that they are not approving. This includes grabbing, petting, hugging, patting, booping their nose, or trying to play with them. If the dog shows anxious or avoidant behavior, this could be a sign you might be crossing a boundary.

Don’t go for a dog’s face or a dog’s head as the first thing to touch. This is not often welcomed by most dogs, and you could be putting yourself at risk for a dog bite.

Don’t Yell or Become Overly Excited

The decorum for meeting strangers is similar, whether it be human or dog.

Just imagine that someone comes into your space and begins jumping around and yelling and making loud noises. Not only would that be irritating and scary, but it would be overwhelming. A dog doesn’t want this, either.

Dogs are sensitive to noise; an outburst being directed at them is very intimidating. The response to an act like this might be to pull away from you or look for something to hide behind.

Don’t Tower Over Them

The optimal position to be in when greeting a dog is a crouched position at the dog’s level with your back turned slightly away from them. If you approach a dog and tower over them, they may cower and become anxious about what your next movement will be.

Dogs don’t like when objects or hands come over the tops of their heads, in what’s referred to as “overhead dread.” They can’t anticipate what’s happening if they’re being approached from above. Give them a clear line of sight and an indication of what your actions will be.

How To Greet a Dog (and How Not To)

AskVet Has Answers

Maybe your dog is struggling with greetings, or you’re trying to encourage family and friends to behave more cautiously around your dog. Whatever the case may be, AskVet is here to answer all of your questions. Not only do our Certified Pet Coaches have training resources and guides to promote a healthy and helpful life, but you can chat with someone at any point of the day to get answers.

Sign-up today for a virtual session where we can learn more about your dog and their personal needs before coming up with a plan to improve their overall well-being!


Communication in Dogs | NCBI

Canine Olfaction: Physiology, Behavior, and Possibilities for Practical Applications | NCBI

Eye Contact Is Crucial for Referential Communication in Pet Dogs | NCBI

Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails? | American Kennel Club

Introducing Your Dog to Your Baby | Mallard Creek Animal Hospital

Dog bite prevention | American Veterinary Medical Association

If You Find a Lost Pet | American Humane Society

How To Greet a Dog (and How Not To)

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