I'm just curious. When I meet cats, I slow blink at them (a sign of trust that, as a side-effect, tells them I'm not threatening), and I noticed that I automatically do the same with dogs, which probably doesn't make any sense to them. So, is there a way to tell a dog I'm not threatening/am approachable/can be trusted? Wagging a tail is out of the question ^_^

EDIT: Seems like I worded the question wrong. It's not about actively approaching a dog. What I meant is, is there a way to let the dog know that it can approach me if it wants to? What I'm interested in is the casual show of intent, certainly not the action.


4 Answers 4


I would add to Mario's answer:

  • Bear in mind that dogs on a lead may be more nervous, since they know they can't back away.

  • Ask the owner. Not only is this polite of course, but they know their dogs temperament and current mood. They may also have rules they are training him to follow, like "please don't let him jump up".

  • Get low. Don't lean over or tower above their head, think how imposing this would be to you. Squat down.

  • Hold out your hands slowly and open, let them come to you and sniff. Of course they can smell you coming, but this gives them time to properly check you out - it's about body language not just scent. Notice how human greetings in many different cultures involve showing your hands. Dogs also know that we use our hands to do things like pet them, feed them treats, but also grab or hit them. If they are likely to bite your hand off, you'll know about it before you even get to this point.

  • They may be timid and make sudden movements, but try to stay still; don't make sudden jerky movements forward or backward. Even when they move in to sniff you they may still not be entirely comfortable, so give them a few more seconds even when you think they are happy. Let them control the meeting. If they really don't seem happy, don't try to force it, just back off.

  • Once they seem to be happy, don't go immediately for touching the top of their head. Start with stroking their chest or chin. They can better see what you are doing and don't feel so vulnerable.

See this, and for a somewhat differing opinion to some of what I say, see this.

  • 2
    Good answer - one thing to add, when extending your hand out do it under their head and palm up, not palm down and towards the top of their head. The latter is a very dominant "I'm bigger than you" intimidating posture that also blocks their vision.
    – Tim B
    Feb 13, 2015 at 16:16
  • 2
    Oooh. Holding out an open hand to a strange dog is poor practice. It's a good way to get your fingers bitten. Offer a fist (at least curl in your fingertips) to the dog for smelling. It doesn't make a difference to them and it could potentially save your digits.
    – Preston
    Feb 14, 2015 at 1:07
  • 1
    @PrestonFitzgerald I did explain my thoughts on that, and deliberately linked to a page that disagrees, so I knew there might be some contention there. Good point about curling your fingers in though.
    – BoBTFish
    Feb 14, 2015 at 8:43

Tail wagging really just tells "I'm excited". Dogs might even bark and try to drive someone away while still wagging. It's just one sign that can show you a dog doesn't fear you or feels suppressed in any way (which would be a reason to push the tail down between its legs).

Considering dogs can be far more aggressive and dangerous compared to cats (especially homeless/roaming ones), I wouldn't trust on any simple stance or behavior. Also dogs might interpret signals differently based on how they've learned them (if at all!).

But in general, what I know:

  • Avoid staring at the dog. Similar to cats, they might play the "blink and you lose" game.
  • Dogs will try to read your general pose and behavior, e.g. when walking calm and slowly.
  • They'll also listen to your voice and the general tune. Are you sounding aggressive or not? So actually saying "Hello" in a higher, happy voice, might do more than any other thing you can think of.
  • Many dogs show others that they're no danger and want to meet them by lieing down and waiting. This most likely is out of question, so just standing still, bending and/or crouching might be enough. Keep in mind that more aggressive dogs might consider this a sign of submission.
  • “Avoid staring at the dog” is a myth, or perhaps an oversimplification, based on a misinterpretation of canine behavior. The problem isn't staring, it's the intent behind the stare. If a person feels even a little trepidation, a canine will notice that in the stare (and body language), and unless the dog is very good-natured, he will see that as a reason to be on his guard. This is why if you stare at a dog who has lived with you for years, the dog will likely interpret it as a sign you want to play.
    – VGR
    Feb 13, 2015 at 22:18

I want to point out that both Mario's and BobTFish's answers include actions you should absolutely not do when meeting a dog for the first time.

  1. Do NOT reach your hand out toward the dog. You can see this information in both articles linked by BobTFish.
    • KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF. I know that somewhere along the line the advice was given to present your hand to a dog so they can sniff it. For shy or fearful dogs, that outstretched hand can look like you are reaching for them, causing them to distrust you. Considering dogs have 250 million scent receptors compared to our 5 million, they can smell you just fine with your hand at your side. http://4pawsu.com/pet.htm
    • NEVER extend a hand to a dog as you approach it. The notion that a dog needs to sniff your hand is not only ridiculous given that the dog knows your scent way before you have approached, but also dangerous as you can get bitten in the hand. Note: Children need to be taught NOT to extend their hand as they approach a dog. I have personally stopped many children from approaching my own dogs this way even though I know my dogs would tolerate it. The point being that proper etiquette needs to be taught. http://www.malinoisrescue.org/meeting-new-dogs.shtml
  2. You should not use a high voice when greeting a dog.
    • Always use a calm, low tone voice – NEVER ‘baby-talk’ to a dog regardless how cute she is; dogs regard this type of energy as weak and are more likely to “pounce” or jump up on a human that uses it. http://www.malinoisrescue.org/meeting-new-dogs.shtml

Those two articles are great references on how to greet a dog. I think the most important take-away is to let the dog control the situation and determine how the interaction goes rather than trying to force any kind interaction that the dog may not like.


My approach is to hold out a relaxed hand, palm down, at the dog's level (which may require squatting down),and give them a chance to decide and to get my scent. Let them come to you, move slowly and smoothly, and proceed from there based on their reactions.

  • The OP asked about how to indicate to a dog that you would like them to approach, not the other way around.
    – Joanne C
    Feb 15, 2015 at 20:56
  • Granted. Squatting down to their level may help in that regard, by making you appear less imposing. (This trick also works remarkably well on children; sit on the floor and they are far more likely to see you as approachable.)
    – keshlam
    Jan 7, 2017 at 17:09

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