How do you greet a dog you don't know? Do you automatically stick your hand out for the dog to sniff?
While we as humans believe the "sniff test" is an appropriate way to greet a dog, we disagree! Why do we say this? Read on!
When we reach out to a dog, you are invading their personal space. We force an interaction between the dog and ourselves without giving them a chance to decide if we are safe, or if they are comfortable with the interaction. To dogs, this is super rude and may give them reason to growl or worse! Imagine if a stranger invaded your personal space without your permission! How would you feel about it?
Their noses are way better than ours. Dogs have highly developed noses which allow them to smell us from a distance. They do not require you to be close for them to get a good whiff of you!
If the dog is on a leash, they may feel trapped, without a place to escape to. This feeling may cause a couple of reactions. Feeling trapped may make the dog feel forced into growling or snapping to let you know that they need space because you're invading theirs. Or, the dog may feel sensitive and shy away, or even shut down. Both of these are wildly negative experiences for the dog.
Some dogs don't care about strangers. They don't have an interest in us and don't want to interact with us. We should respect their feelings, just like we do with humans.
If not the sniff test, then what do I do?
Ask the owner if their dog is open to meeting strangers. A dog's owner will be able to let you know if the dog likes meeting strangers or if they prefer not to. Asking the owner also means that you do not interrupt any potential training they may be in the middle of.
If the owner says yes, that you can meet the dog, then you can proceed to the following steps:
Stand straight, relax your shoulders and keep your hands at your side
Don't stare at the dog, this is rude in the dog world
Let the dog approach you
Pet the dog under the chin, then if the dog is comfortable, you can move to their chest, shoulders and back (don't forget booty scratches near the tail!)
At random, stop petting the dog. If they come back for more, that is their way of saying they are still enjoying the experience.
Remember not to reach over the dog's head, as that makes you loom over them and creates a stressful experience.