8 Things To Do When Meeting A Dog For The First Time

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When you’re out and about and you see a dog, it’s natural to want to walk right up and pet it, but this can be a bad decision. It’s important to realize that even though you know your intentions, the dog does not. To a dog, you’re just a stranger walking up to try and touch it. Here are the important things to do when meeting a dog for the first time to ensure your safety.

1. Don’t Walk Straight to the Dog

Imagine you’re on the sidewalk and someone you don’t know made a beeline for you, while staring at you the entire time. It’d probably put you on edge, right? Well, dogs feel the same way. You can walk in the direction of the dog and its owner, just avoid putting all your attention on the dog as you do it. It’s also better if you angle your side to the dog while you talk to the owner, to present less of a threat.

2. Ask the Owner if the Dog Is Friendly

Perhaps the single-most important thing you can do is ask the owner about his dog’s temperament before you try to interact with it. An owner who knows how to provide proper pet care will warn people immediately if his dog gets nervous easily, but it’s still good to ask. It’s also rude to greet someone’s dog before asking them about it. He could be in the middle of training the dog, or his dog may just not do well around people it doesn’t know.

3. Hold Your Hand Out to See How the Dog Reacts

Now, this is a bit of a controversial topic in the pet care world. For many years, conventional wisdom said that when you meet a dog for the first time, you stick your hand out first so the dog has the chance to smell it. On the other side of the debate, there are those who say that this is pointless, because the dog can already smell you from a mile away due to its impressive sense of smell, and could even be perceived as aggressive by the dog. It’s up to you whether you hold your hand out or not, but it can be a good way to test if the dog will be okay with physical contact. A dog that sniffs or licks your hand will likely let you pet it. If it shies away, you’ll know that you should leave it alone.

4. Don’t Look the Dog Straight in the Eyes

This is another one of those threatening behaviors that you can do inadvertently when meeting a dog. You don’t need to awkwardly avert your gaze any time the dog looks up at you, but you should make sure that you aren’t looking it dead in the eye or staring at it for too long. This will put it on edge.

5. Avoid Using a High-Pitched Voice

If you like using a cute, high-pitched voice with animals, you should save that for the ones that you already know. Dogs associate high-pitched sounds with prey. If you start using baby talk with a dog you just met, it could see you as prey and lash out as a result. It also gets confusing for the dog when you sound like prey but make dominant gestures, such as walking right up and staring at it, which is why it’s so important to understand what type of signals your actions are sending.

6. Lightly Pet the Back or the Chest

Once you’ve gotten the okay from the owner and shown the dog your hand, if you chose to do that, you can give it a little pet. Stick to petting the back and chest when you’re interacting with a dog you don’t know well. Anywhere around the head can put a dog on high alert, especially if you try to pet it on the top of its head. When you’re petting the dog, be calm, go slow and avoid making any quick movements that could startle it.

7. Be Aware of the Dog’s Body Language

This one should be obvious, but if you’re talking to the dog’s owner while you pet it, it’s easy to miss signs that the dog is uncomfortable. If it starts showing any signs of aggression or fear, such as growling, barking, panting or shying away from you, back away and don’t give the dog any more attention. Avoid trying to calm the dog down yourself. The owner knows his dog better than you do.

8. Stick to Short Meetings

Even a calm dog can get agitated when a stranger keeps petting it. It will be more comfortable if the meeting is short. What if you get caught up in a conversation with the owner? You can probably continue petting the dog during the conversation, because it’s less likely to get nervous when your attention is elsewhere.

Safety is important when you’re meeting a new dog, and following these tips will keep both you and the dog safe. If you see a dog often, you’ll get to know it better the more you meet and eventually, you won’t need to be as cautious around it.

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