Let’s talk about dog greetings! At Camp Bow Wow we meet new pups every day and the importance of a proper dog greeting is always top of mind. Practicing proper dog greetings is something everyone should know to keep the interactions comfortable for all involved.
Whether you are meeting an excited social dog or a timid and anxious dog for the first time, the greeting should be the same. Upon first meeting a dog, you likely won’t know their comfort level, so it is crucial you approach all new dogs the same to ensure the interaction is safe. It is also important to educate yourself on dog body language to be able to recognize whether a dog is comfortable with the greeting or if they are uninterested in an interaction all together.
Ask for permission
When a dog is with their owner it is ALWAYS a best practice to ask permission before greeting their dog. They are their dog’s advocate, and if they say “no” it is in their dog’s (and your) best interest. Even if a dog looks approachable, their owner may say no, and it is important to respect this. Their dog could be in training, may be particularly sensitive to strangers coming close, or they may not be sure how their dog will respond; or perhaps they simply don’t have time!
Let the dog approach you
If the owner grants you permission to greet their dog, place your body at an angle and give the dog a chance to walk up to you and give you signals they are interested in meeting. Some of these signals will look like:
• The dog is calm, attentive, and responsive
• They are displaying a soft face
• They are displaying a soft and wiggly body
• Responding to owner and environment with free and easy movement
Check out Eileen and Dogs and Lili Chin’s visual guide of these signals
Even if their owner says it is okay, if the dog backs up, has a tucked tail, or looks worried, it is best to forego further contact with them.
Before getting to know you, some dogs can be averse to strong eye contact or staring. You can slightly angle your face away from the dog and look at them from the side to make a dog feel more at ease.
A pet on the head or face can be a scary experience for a dog who doesn’t know you well. It is better to opt for a pet on the side or chest when the dog is calm and ready for it. Ask the owner if there is anywhere the dog is uncomfortable or nervous being touched. Some dogs may be sensitive to certain parts of their body being touched.
Get down on their level
Kneel or squat down to the dog’s level to make them feel more comfortable if it feels safe for you to do so. Be sure to remain at an angle, not directly facing the dog. If the dog is showing warning signs, it may be best to stay standing and avoid being at face-level with the dog.
Some warning signs can look like:
• Dog is frozen and unresponsive
• Tucked tail, staying very still
• Tense face or body
• “Whale eye” (a lot of the white part of their eyes showing)
• Ears pinned
• Avoidant or leaning away
Refer to Eileen and Dogs and Lili Chin’s resource above for a visual guide to these signals
When meeting an excited dog
It is best to avoid petting a dog who jumps up on you as that could be a reward to them; instead, turn your back to them if they start to jump on you. Try to not engage with them until all four paws are on the ground and they have calmed down. Ask the owner if they have a cue for another behavior (like sit) that you could use to provide the dog with an alternative to jumping.
Meeting new dogs can be a fun experience and making sure you do a proper greeting can ensure it is also a safe one. Enjoy making more and more four-legged friends!