Three dog trainer approved steps for approaching a nervous dog the right way - and it isn’t rocket science

Fluffy dog looks alert with very anxious eyes
(Image credit: Getty)

Interacting with dogs can be one of the best encounters in life but you can't always tell from the outset if a dog feels comfortable with you touching them. Sometimes when we are so distracted by how cute and fluffy a pup is we neglect to approach them in a safe and friendly manner.

You might go straight in for a cuddle or perhaps go to retrieve one of the best puppy toys from their mouth to play with. But when it comes to anxious pups, you might want to rethink how you greet them in the future. 

According to certified dog trainer, Sam Hoke, "99% of people do the wrong thing when they meet a nervous dog", but thankfully, he has three rules to use next time you encounter one.

He demonstrates the three step process on a nervous dog called Mira to show how to use his theory in a real-life situation with a dog. Watch below to see the canine trainer's approach...


♬ original sound - Sam Hoke | Dog Trainer

In the video above, Hoke explains that if a nervous dog feels threatened by you, eye contact is the first warning sign for them. So his first golden rule when approaching an anxious pooch is do not give direct eye contact.

"Number two," says Hoke, "Position your body in the least threatening way possible. Leaning over the dog, sticking your hand in the dog’s face, moving towards the dog and trying to pet them, that is all kinds of body language that can be a huge red flag to nervous dogs." Just because you know your intentions are genuine toward a dog doesn't mean that they will read this from you. Be aware of your body language when greeting an anxious dog.

The third and final rule that Hoke the dog trainer points out is something he says many people 'screw' up. If you're trying to feed a nervous dog treats and win them over this way, you must let them come to you rather than force the treat toward their face. 

As Hoke demonstrates this on Mira in the video. He explains, "If she wants the treat she has to push herself just a little outside of her comfort zone to get it and every time she does she gets a small piece of a hot dog."

"I continue to level up by moving the treat closer and closer to my body. Once she understands the nature of our relationship things begin to change," adds Hoke.

Anxiety in dogs is a very common issue, fortunately, there is advice on how to calm a dog down during high periods of anxiety. But if you have a particularly nervous dog, you may benefit from consulting a behaviorist expert to address your canine's specific issues.

Jessica Downey
Staff Writer

With over a year of writing for PetsRadar, Jessica is a seasoned pet writer. She joined the team after writing for the sister site, Fit&Well for a year. Growing up with a lively rescue lurcher kindled her love for animal behavior and care. Jessica holds a journalism degree from Cardiff University and has authored articles for renowned publications, including LiveScience, Runner's World, The Evening Express, and Tom's Guide. Throughout her career in journalism she has forged connections with experts in the field, like behaviorists, trainers, and vets. Through her writing, Jessica aims to empower pet owners with accurate information to enhance their furry companions' lives.