The Art of Greeting a New Dog

by | March 8, 2022 | Blog

Learn how to greet a dog and how to advocate for yours

“Wondering how to approach and greet a new dog?” is part two of a four part series on dogs and mental health in collaboration with Elizabeth Sánchez Arvizu, M.A.’s #ReFrameAndReEnchant initiative on Psychology for Geeks.

Disclaimer: While I hope that this information helps you, you alone are responsible for how you choose to greet a dog. Be safe.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Greeting Dogs

If you’ve been offering your hand for a dog to sniff as a greeting, you might want to reconsider. This can be intimidating for dogs, so let’s explore the proper way to approach and greet them.

1. Always ask the owner first

  • Consult the dog’s owner before approaching
  • Ask how their dog prefers to be greeted
  • Remember: don’t distract Service Dogs; ask permission for Therapy Dogs

2. Eye contact: not always friendly

  • Dogs may perceive direct eye contact as a threat
  • Avoid staring into a dog’s eyes

3. Get on their level, but mind your posture

  • Don’t tower over or bend directly over a dog
  • Turn sideways and squat down, adopting a non-threatening posture

4. Respect the dog’s choice

  • Allow the dog to decide if they want to greet you
  • If they don’t want to approach, respect their decision

5. Find their favorite petting spots

  • Ask the owner where their dog likes to be touched
  • Generally, dogs don’t enjoy being petted on the head

My Personal Experience with Sunny

When training my dog, Sunny, to be a Therapy Dog, I discovered the importance of understanding proper dog greeting etiquette. Sunny was initially intimidated by people leaning over to pat her head. This led me to research and learn the correct way to greet dogs. Check out this helpful illustration by Lili Chin:

How Not To Greet A Dog

Teaching Children Safe Dog Interaction

77% of dog bites happen with familiar dogs, often due to children not knowing how to interact safely or recognize signs of stress. Teaching children the proper way to engage with dogs can prevent accidents and build healthy relationships between kids and their pets.

Doggie Language: A Dog Lover's Guide to Understanding Your Best Friend

Books to Teach Kids About Dogs


  • Doggie Language: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Understanding Your Best Friend by Lili Chin
    Recommended for all ages
  • How to Speak Dog: A Guide to Decoding Dog Language by Aline Alexander Newman and Gary Weitzman, D.V.M.
    Recommended for ages 8-12
  • May I Pet Your Dog?: The How-to Guide for Kids Meeting Dogs (and Dogs Meeting Kids) by Stephanie Calmenson
    Recommended for ages 4-7
  • Tails Are Not for Pulling by Elizabeth Verdick
    Recommended for ages 1-5

Be your own dog’s best advocate!

As I mentioned, everything I’ve learned about how to approach and greet a new dog was to help my dog Sunny feel more confident when she sees someone new that she would love to meet. Whenever we encounter someone new, it is my responsibility to advocate for her and teach others how to approach and greet her.

If you have a dog, the same is true for you. Take what you’ve learned and observe your dog to find what’s best for them. Then be their best advocate.

If you are interested in learning more about Therapy Dogs, please check out my podcast Therapy Dog Talk.

Disclosure: I earn commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

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