About Breeds

How To Safely Approach A Strange Dog

There is a big difference in the methods of communication that dogs use and that humans use. And since not all dogs are trained socially, things can go wrong when you meet a dog for the first time or try to pet him the wrong way. This is why one must know how to safely approach a strange dog to avoid an unpleasant incident. For safety’s sake, you must learn the dog’s ways. For instance, if you approach a dog wrong, he might bark or growl at (or worse, bite or attack) you, telling you to “back off!” because he thinks you are an enemy.

The right methods of greeting a dog shall be discussed in this article. First of all, if the dog has an owner, you should ask permission first before “talking” to the dog itself. You may not know what kind of issues that dog may have if the owner didn’t tell you yet.

And probably the most important thing to remember is, if the dog has no owner around, stay away from it, because you don’t know its background and whether it was socialized or not, and whether it is aggressive or not. Here are some basic tips on standard dog petting etiquette:

How To Safely Approach A Strange Dog

  • Do not approach the dog face to face. This is because dogs do not generally like the idea of being “watched” or stared at, and normally like to approach others in curves, whether human, fellow dog, or other animals. Sadly, leashes prompt the dogs to walk in a straight manner, something that they are not really used to, according to a Norwegian writer Turid Rugass, who wrote “On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals”. The best way to approach a dog is to keep your side towards the dog so it will not feel threatened and uncomfortable.
  • Do not move your hand or fist toward him or hover over him.The dog may see this as an attack.This is thoroughly explained in the following video by Tracie Hotchner, author of “The Dog Bible”:
  • Do not make threatening or fast moves. Instead, act calmly towards the dog. One important thing is to not look at him directly in the eyes, as this could imply to him that you are being a threat to him. Dogs are usually very territorial, and do not really want their personal space invaded. Move slowly, and do not lean forward or have you head close to the dog. Also, avoid shouting or making noises that could possible startle the dog.
  • Let the dog approach you first. This is to let the dog know that you are not a threat. The dog may sniff at the back of your hand and may have different reactions: he can sniff and then walk away, think that you are a threat and bark or growl, or continue sniffing and act like he is asking for attention and love. And don’t talk “baby talk” to the dog. As described in a DogBreedInfo.com article:

            Stay calm and as tempting as it is, avoid speaking in an excited, high-pitched, whiny tone. You may then calmly pet the dog. Pet the dog gently and avoid getting the dog excited as it only makes it harder for the owners to carry on after you walk away.

  • Pet the dog the correct way. The general etiquette is to not pet the dog on the top of the head or over the head. Instead, pet from the bottom of his head, under the chin, or even the chest area and the sides.

Every dog will bite (even if it was properly trained) if it feels threatened, so you should be very careful when petting and approaching a strange dog to prevent any unwanted incidents and injuries.

So perhaps the best advice about how to safely approach a strange dog is simply: don’t!

Have you had any experience with a strange dog, either good or bad? If so, please share it with all our readers below.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. helen mackenzie

    Dec 27, 2016 at 1:01 am

    Im not looking forward to my next encounter with a huge dog who i am feeding whilst her owners are away for holidays, im taking a bone treat as a diversion and a thankyou for letting me in side gate (also risky)

    thanks for the hints on body language, may just save my life as I have to walk around side of house to get to the dogfood tins…eek.

  2. Maria M

    Aug 11, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    I have had dogs in the past, and like them OK. However, in recent weeks, I have been the target of multiple strange dog owners, who push their dogs on me, by allowing the dogs to knock me down when I was minding my own business at the park. Last week, while reading & waiting for a bus, a sheltie on a leash came to sniff my face. The owners laughed and believed to be a wonderful thing. While I was most annoyed with the lack of respect for my personal space. Is it possible that the rights of dogs are more important than those of people? Why can’t dog owners see their responsibility to educate their pets on public behavior?

  3. Tom Rollo

    Aug 19, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    When approaching a dog for the first time.

    First with crouched shoulders in non threatening manner allow the dog to check you out. Slowly extend your downward back of hand facing the dog, as if a paw, fingers curved inward. Let him smell or lick your hand first.

    This serves also the purpose for your own protection as well.

    Never show any animal an open hand or palm as its a sign of aggression.

    Repeat slowly again until you gain the dogs confidence
    Always keep your hand below the dogs eye level but within his eyesight.

  4. kayo

    May 24, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    i would add that if you could have treats. i end up chasing down stray dogs at least twice a month (they do happen to be pits 80% of the time but we have a BSL where i live and i would go crazy if mine got out and caught) but the treats draw them to me easier. ALWAYS KEEP AN EYE ON THE DOG BECAUSE AS SOON AS YOU GET DISTRACTED YOU WILL GET HURT.

  5. margie

    Sep 7, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Only 4 dogs that have scared hell out of me in past: pits, rotweillers, german shepards and dobbies…..some are nasty with just some of that breed in them! Happened to me the other day walking down my own street—-for some reason the neighbor’s rotweiller was barking by their front door—I thought for sure it has to be on a lead or leash—I was wrong and it came right up to us in the street in front of house next to the dog’s house. I didn’t freak out but wanted to—I said hello to the dog and gently turned and moved around and went back the other way but I felt like this dog was right on the verge of attacking my dog or me if I made the wrong move….I hate that! My little schnauzer (puppy) has no fear so she needs more socialization b/c the dogs that tend to snap are going to do it to one like her…as happened the other day first time at beach for her…still learning!

  6. Lynia Ghormley

    Jul 16, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    I recently spotted a stray dog in our neighborhood. When I realized he had been wandering without a collar for at least two days, I grabbed a slip lead and approached him carefully, making sure I wasn’t letting my adrenaline levels, body language or voice betray any excitement. He let me walk right up to him and slip the lead over his head. I followed protocol on correct petting, and soon realized he was a very friendly and calm dog. He was brown, with one blue eye, and his powerful conformation spoke of possible chocolate lab and husky bloodlines. I discovered he knew basic obedience commands, shake and high ten. It was, unfortunately, late in the evening, and the local ARL was closed. They were kind enough to make an emergency pick up, as I had no place to keep him for the night. (My Sheltie’s crate was just too small for him.) He is still at the shelter after several days, with no one stepping forward to claim him. If my husband would allow a large dog in our house, I would adopt and train him as a carting dog, as he has great pulling potential. I hope someone realizes his talents and gives him a wonderful, loving forever home soon. Our ARL will not euthenize an adoptable dog, so he is safe, but every dog needs a real home!

  7. Pegi Dahl

    Jul 15, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Julie, you’re right. We love pits – have had them in my family – and will try to be more sensitive to their plight when choosing photos.

    • Julie Birmingham

      Jul 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      Thank you. 🙂

  8. Julie Birmingham

    Jul 14, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Your article is very good, but, I take exception to you using a “pit bull type” dog in your picture as this only adds to the perception that “pit bulls” are the ones you need to be careful approaching.

    • Todd Jameson

      Oct 12, 2017 at 7:22 pm

      The author can't put a photo of every breed out there. If he put a German shepherd, rottweiler, someone else would have posted your comment. Yes, pit bulls are friendly, but they are also very strong dogs and the breed is a good example.

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