“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.

Are you wondering how to approach and greet a new dog?

I was always told that the proper way to say hello to someone else’s dog is to bend over and stick my hand in front of their nose to let them smell me. Sound familiar? While I’m pretty sure that this is common advice, I recently learned that dogs in fact do not enjoy this and can even find it to be threatening. So, how should we say hello?

1. Ask the dog’s person before approaching.

Listen, not all dog handlers have had training in dog behavior; hwever, they do know their own dog to some extent. The absolute best thing to do when you see a new dog that you would like to say hello to is to ask their person if their dog would like to say hello to you and how they like to be approached.

Note: If you see a working dog, the rules change. Is the dog wearing a Service Dog vest? Do not ask if you can pet them and do not distract them by saying hello or taking their photo. They need to stay focused on their person. If you see a Therapy Dog, be sure to ask their person if you can say hello. These dogs are generally trained to wait for permission.

2. Don’t stare at the dog.

As a general rule, we humans find eye contact to be polite and necessary. Dogs, on the other hand, find it to be quite confrontational. While it can be tempting to stare into their adorable eyes, it’s best to avert your eyes from theirs.

3. Come to the dog’s level.

Dogs do not like it when you tower over them. However, this also means that you should not bend over them to get to their level. Instead, turn sideways and squat down in a non-threatening posture.

4. Let the dog decide if they want to say hello.

Once you’re on their level, let the dog decide if they would like to approach you. If they don’t want to, that’s their decision and you need to respect their choice. Not every dog wants to greet every person. (Do you want to say hi to everyone?)

5. Ask where the dog likes to be touched.

Many dogs like to be scratched under their chin or on their shoulder but every dog is different so it is best to ask their person what they prefer. While we tend to think we should pet the top of their head, they generally don’t enjoy this.

Need a visual of how to approach and greet a new dog?

While training Sunny to be a Therapy Dog, I learned that, although she almost always wants to say hello, she would often be intimidated by people leaning over to pat her head. This led to discussions with other Therapy Dog teams to troubleshoot what might be going on. One of the first things shared with me was this great illustration from Lili Chin:

How Not To Greet A Dog

Does your child know how to be safe around dogs?

77% of dog bites happen with familiar dogs. This doesn’t need to happen but it is often because kids do not know how to interact safely with dogs or how to tell if the dog is stressed rather than enjoying their play. Thankfully, there are many books and tools in place to help address this issue and create better relationships between kids and their dogs: 

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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