Hello, dog! How to introduce yourself to a new dog

05 Jun 2015 | by | Posted in: Wag Brag

How to introduce yourself to a new dog

Let’s say you’re walking down a street, when you notice a stranger walking in your direction. How often do you rush up to the stranger with your arms outstretched, ready for a hug and a cuddle, whilst cooing in a baby voice the whole time? And, if you were ever to do this, how often do you think the stranger would react likewise, rather than hit out at you or report you to the nearest police station?

It’s safe to assume that humans who are socialised to even a basic degree do not greet each other in this manner. Why then do we insist on doing this with dogs and expect them to love us?

The above analogy is an extreme one, of course, but here’s the first thing to remember, whilst greeting a dog you haven’t met before: Just because you ‘love dogs’, it doesn’t mean they love you back. And, even if they do, it doesn’t mean they want to be fawned over, kissed, hugged, and cooed to in a loud voice. Dogs are drawn to some people and not to others in the same way as humans take to some people and don’t want to be around others. Here are a few basic tips to introduce yourself to a dog without alarming him or her. 

The dog we’re pretend-meeting today is Rafiki, a beautiful Indy dog I work with at the shelter. He is friendly, well-adjusted, and well socialised with other dogs as well as people. Say hello to Rafiki.


(Photo credit: Rahul Thomas)

Rafiki is going for a walk today and you have been invited to meet him. What do you do? 

Ask for my permission to talk to him 

If Rafiki turned out to be a dog who didn’t like to meet strangers, this is the best opportunity for me – his caregiver – to tell you so. Simply rushing up to him and touching him would be inviting trouble. 

Once permission has been received, ignore him

A dog can smell you long before you even know he’s around, and he’s gathered enough information about you before you’ve set eyes on him. Once you’re close enough to Rafiki, ignore him and let him approach you first. 

Do not:

  • Look him in the eye directly (this tells him you’re dominant and he needs to be wary of you)

  • Loom over him to pat his head (another sign of dominance in dog-speak)

  • Speak to him loudly and in high-pitched tones (this tell him that you are weak and hence possibly, prey)

So what’s the right thing to do?

Allow Rafiki to come to you. Rafiki is a curious dog and will let you know soon enough if he’s interested in making your acquaintance further. If he shows interest, allow him to sniff your hand. This is an invitation to him to investigate you further, and in a non-threatening way. Once he’s sniffed out your personality, check his face quickly for soft, relaxed eyes and his tail for a calm, gentle wag positioned approximately parallel to the ground. Now, he’s letting you know you’re okay. You can touch him on the shoulder or chest. Don’t reach out for his head; any spot your hand reaches out for that the dog can’t see clearly, is not the best spot.

If at any point in your interaction, Rafiki backs off, he’s trying to tell you to stop doing what you’re doing or that he’s simply done exchanging pleasantries. Respect his decision and back off, too.

In the next edition of Hello, dog!, we’ll talk about specifically approaching seemingly over-friendly dogs.

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