Want to a greet a dog the right way? These five trainer approved tips will keep the dog and its owner happy

Woman greeting a dog
(Image credit: Getty)

Dogs are very sociable animals to have but this doesn't mean to say they always enjoy being touched by new people, especially when strangers do this carelessly or without consent.

Teaching a dog to behave well on walks can take up a lot of time and effort, and in some cases, many of the best puppy toys to maintain their attention during training. So if you've ever noticed a dog owner look a little annoyed or stand-offish with you when you've gone to pet or play with their dog in public, it could be because you are encouraging their dog to react in a way that isn't in line with their training.

It's important that you don't take it personally. Dogs are very lovable animals and more often than not look too adorable not to go over and pet them. But you never know whether or not they could be a very anxious dog or it may be in training to become a working dog. 

If you want to avoid upsetting a pooch or its owner, follow these five tips shared by a professional dog trainer from Sit Pretty Behavior &Training:

Although most people reading this will be grown adults, we often can be tempted to run over to a cute canine, in the same way, young kids do. Vanessa from Sit Pretty Training has shared the rules she teaches her own kids when they encounter a dog in public and they are applicable to all of us dog lovers.

1) Always ask permission

You probably wouldn't go pet a human stranger on the head without asking first so bear this in mind when approaching a dog. Vanessa says this still applies if you have met the dog before:

"Even if you've pet the dog before, or you know the person, always ask permission before approaching or interacting with an animal," she advises.

2) Let the dog approach you 

"When we rush towards a dog on a leash, this can be frightening and the dog might feel 'trapped' which could result in a defensive reaction," Vanessa explains, "Let the dog approach you when they are ready, at their own pace."

3) Pet on the chest or shoulder 

The way you approach a dog, your body language and the positioning of your hand will play a key role in greeting a dog the right way. "Reaching over the top of a dog can be very threatening, and many dogs don't enjoy having their head pet. The chest or shoulder is usually a more comfortable spot for most dogs," notes Vanessa.

4) Consent checks

Even if a dog looks happy to be touched, it's possible for them to change its mind. In order to respect this and not interpret their behaviors wrongly, Vanessa recommends performing frequent consent checks to ensure that the dog is still comfortable and has the space to disengage at any time. 

As a rule of thumb, she says, "Pet three times and then withdraw your hand to see what the dog does. Do they come back asking for more? Or do they move on to something else, indicating they're all done with the interaction? Give the dog a chance to tell you how they feel!".

5) No means no

This is a pretty obvious one but it's easy to be blind-sighted by a dog's cuteness and reach out to pet it before the owner has a chance to let you know this isn't ok.

"If the dog's guardian says "no" when you ask if you can pet their dog, the respectful thing to do is move along. This is not a personal attack on you, and we do not have the 'right' to pet every dog we come across (even if we really, REALLY want to.)

"There are a thousand different reasons why it may not be appropriate to interact with someone's dog, and we need to respect that boundary," Vanessa explains.

If you own a dog that suffers from anxiety you might like to read a vet's guide on how to calm a dog down during periods of high anxiety.

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.