7 Tips on How to Approach & Safely Pet an Unknown Dog

7 Tips on How to Approach & Safely Pet an Unknown Dog

Author WDF Staff


If you’re anything like us, you want to approach every dog in the street or dog park and pet them. We know the urge can be pretty intense, especially when the dog looks insanely cute. However, there is a right and safe way to do it. If you’re not careful, you’re risking a bite. Some dogs are simply not that friendly or don’t like to be approached by people they don’t know. Here are 7 tips on how to approach and safely pet an unknown dog.

1. Ask for permission

The first thing you should do is ask the owner for permission. If you’re walking on the street or you’re in the park with your dog, the polite and SAFE thing to do is ask the unknown dog’s owner for permission to approach the dog. Imagine if you had a fearful dog, and someone simply ran up to them and demanded playing. That creates an unsafe environment for everyone involved. It is best to politely ask for permission, so if the dog is unfriendly, the owner can tell you to be careful or to back off.

how not to pet a dog

2. Approach slowly and from the side

One of the worst things you can do is approach the dog from the front and fast. In the canine kingdom, that can be understood as a threat. Imagine if someone did that to you. It is best to approach the dog from the side. Make sure you keep a calm temperament and don’t be tense. Dogs can sense that, and they might react to the energy you’re radiating. If a dog seems calm, you can even kneel. Although, if you’re unsure about it, best not to put your face close to the area the dog’s teeth can reach.

3. Allow the dog to approach you

Make your intentions clear and allow the dog some space. If the dog doesn’t want to be touched, it’s best not to extend your arms towards them. Instead, approach the dog 70% of the way, and allow the dog to do the remaining 30%. That way, the dog will not feel cornered or threatened. If the dog is friendly, they will gladly come up to you and ask for some scratches.

TRAINER TIP: Coming up to a dog from the front and looking directly in the dog’s eyes is a bad sign in the canine world. Instead, turn your body sideways and look at the dog with the corner of your eye.

kid approaching a dog

4. Offer your hand

This doesn’t mean you should give the dog your hand to bite. Dogs say hello differently than we do. We might shake somebody’s hand or give them a hug. However, dogs do that slightly differently. They will sniff you and use their nose to get to know you. Extend your hand with the back of the hand turned towards the dog. Allow them to sniff your hand. It is the dog equivalent of saying hello and shaking your hand. The dog should relax after the introduction is made.

5. Avoid sudden movements

Dogs are reactive, which means they “feed” off the actions and energy their owners or people around them are exhibiting. If you’re anxious, your dog will probably be anxious. If you’re happy, excited, and laughing, your dog will react with playful barking and excitement. The same goes for fear and sudden movements. If you make sudden movements around an unknown dog, chances are you’ll startle them. The dog might get scared and react the only way they know to defend themselves - with a bite. It’s best to have slow and predictable movements when approaching and trying to pet an unknown dog. 

Dogs love being scratched and petted, right? If you want to know more, check out this article - Why Do Dogs Like to be Petted?

dog getting a treat

6. Stick to the safe areas

We’d love nothing more than to get the dog to completely trust us and pet them all over their body. However, if you’re approaching an unknown dog intending to get a few pets in, it is best to stick to the “safe areas” of the dog. Your first instinct might be to go for the dog’s head, but many dogs don’t like unknown people scratching their heads. Avoid touching the dog’s ears, muzzle, paws, tail, and legs. Stick to the back, neck, chest, and side.

SAFETY TIP: Never try to hug a strange dog. A hug is a sign of love for us, but dogs are usually not that fond of them. They might tolerate them from people they know and love, but a stranger containing them with a hug might be unacceptable for them. You can read more about it here - Do dogs like hugs?

7. Respect the dog

No matter how well dog owners know their dogs, they can read their body language and emotional state wrong. If the unknown dog’s owner says it’s okay to approach the dog, but the dog doesn’t seem interested in the interaction, respect the dog’s wishes. You’ll be interacting with the dog, and you might have to accept they might not be in the mood at the moment. The same goes if the dog is done interacting with you. Don’t force more interaction or scratches if the dog is done with you. You must respect the dog’s decision. Otherwise, the dog will feel crowded and bothered, and the result might be a bite.

dog on truck

In conclusion

Dogs are amazing, and we completely understand the urge to approach and pet every dog you see. A great thing about dogs is that they will let you know how they feel and whether they can be approached and pet. Make sure you remember these tips, and you will have safe interactions with dogs you might encounter in the future. Plus, teaching your kids how to safely approach and pet dogs can be crucial for their safety.

World Dog Finder team

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