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We have all heard that first impressions are important. Presumably they are just as important the first time you meet a dog, as the first time you meet a person.

How should I approach a dog for the first time? What body language is the dog looking for and what does it mean to them?

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We have several related questions, about specific scenarios but I did not find a generally overview. –  James Jenkins Aug 3 '14 at 9:30

2 Answers 2

The way I was taught is:

  • Approach at a moderately slow pace, a bit slower than a walk
  • No loud sounds, no teeth, just approach 'naturally'
  • Place your hand out in a loose fist or fingers pointing down, so the back of the palm is facing the dog
  • Move the hand towards the dog's mouth/nose so he/she can sniff you out. Fingers down or curled will protect them from being nipped.
  • If the dog seems to get nasty you can walk back and away
  • Otherwise let the dog sniff/lick/muzzle further and give a few scratches under the chin or behind the ears

The reasoning behind this method is you assume the dog is slightly afraid and you want to approach in a non-aggressive, non-combative manner, building enough trust for touch to occur and trust to be established.

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I agree on all points. I'd like to add that, as a tall person, I tend to be intimidating especially to smaller dogs no matter how I walk up to them. I find it's almost always more effective to approach until they notice you, then squat down to make yourself small and wait for them to approach you. Extending your hand and presenting the back of it (as Danny's answer suggests) is best. Also, if you want to vocalize, speak softly and in higher pitches. Finally, if the dog shows no interest, approach further with caution - disinterest is sometimes out of fear. –  talrnu Aug 3 '14 at 17:06
I'd add that you shouldn't look directly at the dog either, as that can sometimes be interpreted as a challenge. –  Cucamonga Aug 3 '14 at 17:39

As a complement to this other answer, for a very fearful dog or a dog that is intimidated by your kind of person (tall, bearded, etc.) you can apply the same techniques, but letting the dog come to you and back up if he wants.

That way the dog might feel more confortable and/or not feel trapped or cornered.

There is an excellent article Preventing Dog Bites by Learning to Greet Dogs Properly by Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinary behaviorist. The explanations are well illustrated with some cartoons (I reproduce one here).

enter image description here

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