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Our canine companions have become family members as they’ve adapted to live by our sides. However, what we see as normal behavior when we greet someone - like eye contact, directly facing or approaching, and even smiling (showing your teeth) - can be intimidating to some dogs. In support of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Dog Bite Prevention Week®, we’ve put together some tips on how to properly introduce yourself to an unfamiliar dog.  

Always Ask. First, always ask the owner for permission. Asking is the number one rule for Happy Paws lead trainer, Lizzie Davis, reminding that, “If someone says their dog is unfriendly or in training, respect this and leave them alone.” However, if you see an unattended dog, make sure to practice extra caution and alert the appropriate authorities if the dog is in need of assistance.

Allow the dog to approach first. Let the dog become familiar with your scent by calmly holding out your relaxed hand with your palm facing upward. Extend your hand out so the dog can approach you rather than putting your hand directly in the animal’s face. Also be aware of eye contact. A prolonged stare can be interpreted as a threat

Kneel down to the dog’s level. Making yourself appear smaller to a dog says, “I come in peace,” while reaching or leaning over a dog’s head or body could be intimidating. Cat Daniels, the Virginia Beach SPCA’s shelter manager, also recommends scratching underneath a dog’s muzzle instead of on top of the head.

Promote positive interactions by socializing your dog. Get your dog used to different situations and environments in a safe and positive way. This can be done at any age, but starting early is better. If your dog seems uninterested in socialization, Lizzie Davis suggests playing a game or grabbing a treat to encourage positive interaction. You can also enroll your dog in humane, reward-based training classes, like the classes offered at Happy Paws.

Remember, every dog is different. Treat dogs with respect by respecting limits. Davis suggests if you are unsure if a dog likes the way you are petting, stop and see if the dog engages, such as nudging your hand. If so, that means they are saying, "Keep Going!"

ASPCA tip: “Early training opens a window of communication between you and your dog that will help you consistently and effectively teach her good behavior.”

With these tips, we hope to promote positive interactions for our two and four-legged friends alike.