You’re looking to bring a new dog into your home, and you are understandably excited. I want your first interaction to go as smoothly as possible and that means debunking some old ideas about how to meet or interact with a dog. The old adage, “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” is important to remember when meeting a dog for the first time. What impression do you want to make with that dog? Do you want them to think you’re amazing and safe and respectful of their space and body or do you want them to be afraid of you, think you’re a little threatening or mean?
People often ask “What’s the best way to greet a dog?” and they’re surprised when I say, “Generally, you don’t. Dogs are social creatures. If they want to have an interaction with you, you’ll know.” Dogs who are social and want to be touched will be very clear in their body language. We’ve all seen wiggly, happy dogs who clearly want interaction. And by all means, greet that dog.
But the dogs who aren’t super enthusiastic or don’t eagerly initiate contact, likely aren’t looking for an interaction. Many dogs will approach if they’re unsure, sort of a “fact finding mission” to determine if you’re safe. In this case, if the dog approaches and then you reach down or start to engage with the dog, often the dog will jump back or might even snap, because they weren’t looking for you to interact with them. These dogs may be a little conflicted. They may sort of want an interaction but they’re unsure. Sometimes will see a “stretch investigation” where they stretch the front part of their body to sniff or get close but their back legs are planted in case they need to make a getaway. If you suddenly reach down to pet or try to feed the dog, you’ve likely just confirmed to the dog by invading their personal space, that you’re not safe. It’s important to have a solid understand of dog body language and look for subtle signs of discomfort.
Just because a dog isn’t growling, doesn’t mean they’re comfortable. Tolerating something is very different than actively enjoying something.
So what should you do to set up your first meeting for success?
- Let the dog approach you
- Invite the dog to engage with you
- Toss yummy treats to the dog, generously!
- Get on the dog’s level
- Use a happy, high pitched voice
- Be understanding that the dog may be anxious in the environment you’re meeting in.
- Corner or approach the dog
- Stick your hand out to feed
- Reach over the dog’s head
- Hover over the dog, especially small dogs
- Try to train or test the dog’s training (no “sit, sit, sit, sit”)
- Hug, kiss or otherwise restrain the dog
Grab my latest free download, The 12 Dos and Don’ts When Meeting A New Dog For The First Time right here!
Reading body language, knowing your dog’s subtle stress signs and knowing when to help give your dog a break is also really important. Don’t wait for your dog to be growling, lunging, barking or snarling to relieve them. If you need help understanding dog communication, download my free handout here.
And even more importantly, let’s work to teach kids how to safely interact and greet dogs. I am a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator and a Family Dog trainer, so if you are struggling with dogs and kids, I can help. Whether you’d expecting a baby (download my free Introducing Dog and Baby handout here!), have a toddler, have a new dog and kids and want to get off on the right foot or have a dog who is already showing fear or aggression towards kids, you can schedule your one on one session here!
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