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Things to Know About Approaching a Strange Dog
Whether you're approaching a strange dog because it's loose on the highway to help it, or whether you're greeting a friend's new pet, the following tips will help you to correctly introduce yourself to a dog you do not know.
Dog behavior is not the same as human behavior. Dogs read body language long well in advance of listening to words, so you'll want to talk "dog" to the dog with your body language. When, from the dog's point of view, you approach in a non-threatening manner, you are doing the dog a favor, especially if he has aggression or self-confidence issues. You can become a successful "human encounter" within the dog's memory bank!
Avoid Direct Eye Contact
When you approach an unknown dog, avoid making direct eye contact. Dogs tend to interpret direct eye contact as a challenge. While dogs can be trained to accept direct eye contact, and while this is desirable in competition obedience training, direct eye contact is often interpreted by an untrained dog as a threat.
To appear less intimidating, sit, squat, or get down upon your knees. The smaller a dog is, the more important it is for his handler to reduce his size. By appearing smaller to the dog, you also appear to be less of a threat.
Upon lowering yourself to the dog's level, turn your body sideways. You have now communicated to the dog (in dog language) that you are NOT a threat, (no eye contact), and that you are not nearly as big as he first thought you to be. By presenting him with your side, (as dogs do when making a new acquaintance) you communicate your lack of threat. Facing a dog full front challenges him, (as does direct eye contact). When you down low and sideways, you communicate no threat, and can readily put out a hand for the dog to sniff.
Pet Down Low
After the dog has thoroughly sniffed your hand, pet his chest, first. Everyone's first instinct is to pet the dog over the top of his head and shoulders, but many dogs are uncomfortable with this and will duck or back away from strangers who do so. In dog language, putting yourself over his head and shoulders announces your dominance over him. Many dogs are leery of allowing a total stranger to establish dominance over them. You will have more success if you first pet the dog's chest,before moving up to his shoulders and sides. Pet his head last of all.
As you're petting, speak softly and soothingly to the dog. If you know his name, use it, and tell him things he's likely to already be familiar with hearing such as, "Good boy," or, "Good girl."
Something else to remember when making friends with an unknown dog, is to simply be there, without challenging the dog in any way. Wait for the dog to come to you. Use this strategy when visiting friends. Dogs often prefer to observe a stranger at first, before sniffing them and finally coming closer in. When a dog does finally approach, offer your hand slowly, and if the dog permits it, gently scratch its chest. Oftentimes, when you then drop your hand, the dog will surprise you by then making the next move.