How to pet someone else’s dog for the first time
So you think you’re a dog person. You’ve just arrived at your best friend’s house and you
want to greet the new addition to the home. You rush towards the foreign dog, only to
receive a growl in response. What went wrong, you think. I’m normally so well received?
Well, your approach might be all wrong. As we outline in the steps below, playing the waiting
game is often the better bet. Let’s take a look.
Respect personal space
Dogs that don’t know you or your scent need to have their personal space respected. Never
approach a foreign dog head on with unbroken eye contact – even if you’re a friend of the
family. This is a sign that you’re asserting dominance. Similarly, don’t crowd a foreign dog for
room, at least not right away. Make a slow approach, side-on, and watch for any signs of
discomfort. If the dog begins to pull away, cower or growl, you know you’re not wanted.
Consider how dogs approach one another
We mentioned avoiding unbroken eye contact and a head-on approach in the point above.
Not convinced? Consider how dogs greet one another for the first time. It’s never face to
face. No, they come at one another in an arc, and get a chance to work out what the other
party is all about. Dogs that do run up to another dog often receive aggressiveness in
Wait for the dog to approach you
Dogs that make the approach most definitely want to be friendly. They’ll avoid eye contact
and have a loose way of walking. If the dog makes direct eye contact with dilated pupils,
move with a stilted gait, or freezes completely, you’ve got reason to be worried.
Watch the tail
Tails in motion don’t always mean the dog is content. If the body is loose and the tail is
moving freely, without any discernible tension, the dog is very likely happy. If the tail is stiff,
ramrod straight, and held upright, the dog is under duress.
Get down low
The lower you are, the better: you want to be on the dog’s eye level if possible. The dog will
more than likely begin to sniff you. This is entirely normal. Don’t put your hand atop their
head (dogs generally don’t like this). Instead, place your hand on their side, or on their back.
You are not the pack leader in the home, and you have no need to suppress the dog by
pushing down on their head (however gently).
Watch the dog’s body language closely
Once in front of you, the dog will tell you how it’s feeling through body language alone. If it’s
stiff, or it’s using its nose to push you away, step back and give it some space. The nose
poke is a clear sign that you’re doing something annoying. So heed the cue. If the dog wags
happily, its body moving freely, and presents its flank for a pat, go ahead and be friendly.
Whatever you do, don’t hug it
Dogs don’t like being hugged. They don’t have arms, and don’t understand why you’re
wrapping your human limbs around their body like a wannabe boa constrictor. Even owners
can’t get away with this.
Finally, respect the fact that all dogs are individuals, despite what breed they might be a part
of. Even if you’re the biggest dog person in the world, that doesn’t mean every single dog is
going to respond to you the same way. Remember to watch for body language cues and
never to be too forceful early on.