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How to Approach a Dog for the First Time

Updated on February 10, 2012

A guide to understanding calming signals in dogs

It could occur that one day there may be a stray dog walking around your property or that you want to get acquainted with your friend's new dog, how do you approach the dog? Do you walk up to him? Do you wait till the dog comes to you? Do you lure the dog with some tasty bits?

It can never be emphasized enough to not attempt to approach a stray dog. The dog may be aggressive, a fearful biter, or a carrier of diseases. It is best to leave the job to animal control which are professionally trained to handle such dogs and are equipped with special tools that allow them to safely collect the dog.

However, if your friend just got a dog and you want to meet this dog under your friend's supervision, in the most appropriate manner these tips may be helpful.

-The Learning Curve

Dogs have their own language and methods when it comes to meeting one another. It is interesting to note that according to Turid Rugaas', an international famous dog trainer in her article ''Calming Signals- The Art of Survival'' dogs seem to feel more comfortable when they are approached from a curve rather than head on.

For instance, the author notices how among each other, dogs tend to approach by walking in curves around each other. Some dogs make larger curves than others depending on their comfort zone. It is very likely therefore, that if you let your dog meet another dog by heeling besides you, he or she will feel uncomfortable and both dogs may react defensively, because that is not the way they would meet in nature.

Dogs have boundaries and space is very important among dogs. If you need to approach a dog therefore, try to walk in a curve to allow the dog to not feel intimidated. This is the most appropriate way because it follows the dog's instinctive way to be approached.

-Let the dog approach your first

However, unless absolutely necessary to approach the dog, it is best if the dog approaches you. Pack leaders rarely approach their members of the pack, rather, the dog should come to you. If you approach a timid, fearful dog or one that is barking or growling he or she may react defensively because he is afraid. Instead a dog that approaches you is confident and will seek you out of curiosity or simply to meet and greet you. Of course, some dogs may also approach you to sneak on you and pounce at you in an attack.

-Allow Sniffing

While when dogs meet, the first thing they do is sniff each other's behind, when introduced to humans they most likely will sniff your hands. Always give the dog the opportunity to sniff your scent and analyze it, he or she will learn a whole lot about you this way. Indeed dogs can even smell your fear.


If you visit a friend that has a dog it is best if you give no eye contact to the dog upon entering the house, ignoring is the best way to respect the dog. After a few minutes, once comfortable, the dog will come sniff and meet you. Keep your hand closed in a fist when he does this.

-Read the dog's intentions

Sniffing allows the dog to analyze you. Subsequent behaviors will therefore tell you what he wants to do about the situation. He may want to fight with you, run away from you, ignore you or be friendly with you. If the dog decides to ignore you, respect that. Do not force him to get attention from you. If he is all wiggly, a friendly interaction is often the dog's intention.

-Pet Correctly

Timid, insecure dogs dislike being pat on the head. If the dog was abused he or she may be ''head shy'' retreating by cowering the head. Some dogs may react to a pat on the head because they see this as a threat or because they see it as a dominant behavior. Most dogs feel comforted by being pat on the chest instead.

As seen, dogs have their own meeting etiquette. If as humans we are able to respect such etiquette we may be able to recognize warning signs before they escalate into aggressive behaviors. However, it is best to avoid approaching unknown dogs altogether and leaving the capture of that stray dog to the professionals. Too many people have been bit this way and it is surely not worth it.


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