4. Let their sense of smell guide them
Unlike humans, dogs have a more developed sense of smell and that is their way of approaching and understanding the world that surrounds them. For them, their nose is almost like having a second pair of eyes. That’s why another tip from Dr. Yin is to let them come to us, instead of us going to them. The goal is to make sure they can sniff our legs and hands, so they can choose whether or not they want to be pet by a stranger.
5. Do not stroke their head or raise your hand above their head
It’s fairly common that when people are petting a dog, they put their hand on the dog’s head. That’s probably because very few people take into account that, while some dogs don’t seem to mind, some others do, and they mind a lot. In fact, veterinarian Uri Burstyn says that this gesture may appear to them as an act of aggression and that’s why it’s not uncommon for it to trigger a violent negative reaction. So he suggests instead that after we have approached the dog, we lower our hand a bit just to let them get to know us.
6. Protect your hands but also let them get to know you
Now that you have lowered your hand your new friend can sniff you a little, and get to know who you are. Still, Burstyn recommends, for the safety of both children and adults, to close your hand gently, and turn it so as to show the back of it to the dog. This way our fingers are protected in case the dog turns out to be aggressive for whatever reason. After all, you might still do something that upsets them and you’re a stranger, so they might react to that.
7. Respect their space
Personal space is also important for dogs, and if we are going to bend down to pet a dog that has already given us their trust, it is advisable to respect it. Therefore, Dr. Yin recommends keeping a certain distance to give them freedom of movement while they are getting to know you and while you’re getting to know them as well.
8. Stroke their chin
Once we have gained the animal’s trust, we can pet it. But instead of doing that on their backs or their heads, Dr. Burstyn suggests that we start with their chin, right under their muzzle. That’s because their chin is a safe place for us, while at the same time it feels gentle and non-threatening for them. That way we can be sure we are not doing anything that might upset them in any way.
9. Pet them instead of hugging them
Human expressions of friendship may not mean exactly the same thing for dogs, and that’s something that we should take into account as well. Things like hugging or kissing can cause high levels of stress in dogs, even if that’s hard to believe for us. Now, imagine you’re dealing with an unfamiliar dog, and you’re actually stressing him out. You can get yourself into a fairly dangerous situation there, let alone if we’re talking about children approaching the dog. Dr. Yin recommends always petting instead of cuddling or anything else.
10. Avoid petting them if they are nervous
Observing the dog’s behavior can help you tell if they want to be petted or not. It can happen that they are just not interested in meeting you or that they are nervous. After all, nobody really knows how to meet strangers in the right way all the time. So, if you see that the dog isn’t up for socializing with you, it’s better to not force them to do anything they don’t want to do. One of Dr. Yin’s recommendations is that we approach only if we see that they are relaxed and happy — if they are not, it’s better to just look at them.
How do you approach an unfamiliar pet? And does your dog like to meet new people?