Learn how to greet an unfamiliar dog safely and teach children too. Good manners for greeting people is bad manners for greeting dogs and cats. In fact the two greeting languages are almost all completely opposite.

Unlearn good manners

In the western world, we are taught at an early age to greet new people by approaching them with upright posture, looking directly into their eyes and offering a hand to shake. It becomes second nature to us, so as a result, many of us animal lovers greet every living thing–except bugs–using those same “good” manners.

We must UNLEARN all of that, to avoid frightening dogs, cats, and other animals, who will perceive full-front posture, staring, and outstretched arm as rude and threatening (unless they were well-socialized with humans during the crucial developmental period).

  • Never stare a pet in the eyes. Staring is perceived as highly aggressive. Look at the shoulder or the ground.
  • Ask the pet’s human for permission to approach from 10 feet away.
  • Next ask the dog for permission, using a happy, high-pitched tone of voice, “hi, good dog” or use the dog’s name. Swivel and slump a bit, to avoid full frontal posture.
  • Let the dog or cat approach you, keeping your hands relaxed at your sides, speak in soft tones. Yawn widely to signal that you are relaxed.
  • Crouch and swivel sideways (scatter a treat or two on the ground if you have any).
  • Hang your hands at your side or offer a limp hand to sniff, palm down.
  • Allow the dog or cat to sniff you until he or she finally stops.

If you must approach the pet

  • Walk slowly in a curve toward the shoulder, using a slumping posture.
  • Speak politely in a low-volume level tone of voice.
  • Palm down, limp wrist, offer your hand for sniffing, which may continue for a few minutes.

When the pet greeting ritual is complete and the sniffing is ended, FINALLY you can begin to stroke or scratch the shoulder or under the chin. You have been accepted as safe. Don’t be surprised when your friends’ dogs appear to like you soon after they meet you, because you have proven to speak their language! So many humans do not.

Other tips

Never bounce your hand on top of the head of a dog or cat (patting) and never hug a pet you don’t know well. Both of these behaviors are considered to be aggressive and offensive.

Don’t allow children to greet unknown animals that are not leashed and led by an adult. If your child is politely greeting a leashed dog, watch the dog’s posture closely and listen for growls. If the dog growls, “freezes,” or the hair on the back is erect, it is stressed and may be preparing to bite. (Remember, some dogs don’t growl before biting.)

Your child must “make like a tree:” stand up straight, putting fists under the chin, elbows close to the body, looking up, away from the dog. Some recommend wrapping arms around the head to cover the face, elbows out, hands in back of the head.