Knowledge Nuggets - Greeting a Dog
Updated: Dec 23, 2019
When you interact with a dog that doesn’t know you it is best to reach UNDER the dog’s chin once you have permission to pet them. This will help put the dog more at ease. It gives them a chance to sniff your hand and it feels far less threatening than reaching over the top of their head. Reaching over the top of the head can cause some dogs to feel defensive. At best, a defensive dog will shy away from you, but they could nip or bite if they feel threatened enough. I'm sure you have the best of intentions when saying hello, but it is important to understand it may be threatening to the dog simply because they don’t know you well.
Put yourself in the dog’s place by imagining a stranger that is at least twice your height suddenly hovering over you and reaching town to touch your head. The uncomfortable feeling might make you want to run away or swat at them too! When we understand a dog’s perspective on greetings, it is much easier to make different choices about how we interact.
Reaching UNDER RATHER THAN OVER is a safer option that feels less scary for the dog. It also allows the dog an opportunity to sniff your hand while you’re touching which gives the dog a chance to learn information about you too.
If possible, you might also bend down from the knees, rather than bending over from the waist. Bending OVER a dog can feel threatening because it appears (from the dog’s perspective) that you're hovering over their head and body, rather than being on the same level as they are.
Remember UNDER not OVER in both cases and you’re in a safer position to greet a dog. (as long as you have permission! If you don't have permission, ADMIRE from a distance)