Press "Enter" to skip to content

Human behavior matters when encountering any dog breed


Many dogs like this one love human interactions. But before approaching, make sure to read their body language first. (Courtesy of K9 High School)
Many dogs like this one love human interactions. But before approaching, make sure to read their body language first. (Courtesy of K9 High School)


I have to confess that once upon a not-long-time ago, I was often guilty of having really poor etiquette when it came to meeting dogs out in public that I wanted to pet and fuss over.

We’ve all done it. We’re at the farmers market and spot an adorable fur ball on a leash who is just too cute not to squeeze and fawn all over.

So we run right up and start excitedly talking to the dog, reaching out to pet them, while completely ignoring the human by their side. Can you blame us? Dogs are way more interesting than people!

Unfortunately, this bold behavior is why bites happen.

Why? Logically speaking, one wouldn’t run up to a stranger and start patting them on the head and speaking gibberish to them in an excited, ridiculous tone. No one likes having their space invaded. Even dogs.

When it comes to how we interact with people, we talk a lot about the importance of consent these days — and I think that’s a really beautiful shift.

But just as it’s important to make sure we always seek consent to occupy personal space in our human relationships, it’s equally critical to show that kind of respect with our animal companions.

The holidays come with a lot of opportunities to socialize with our friends and family. Since most families have at least one pet these days, it’s important to remember the right ways to interact with pets we haven’t met before.

With the help of my friend Carlos F. Morales, animal behavior specialist and founder of K9 High School in Long Beach, I’ve come up with some basic tips for how to properly introduce yourself to a dog.


Make sure to read a dog's body language first before approaching to say hello. (Courtesy of K9 High School)
Make sure to read a dog’s body language first before approaching to say hello. (Courtesy of K9 High School)


Ask (the human) first: Look, I get it. Dogs are more interesting to talk to than most people. But before you engage with someone else’s dog, you should first ask permission to do so from their human companion. It’s just good manners. But beyond manners, it’s important for safety.

You’ll get valuable information from the human about whether or not the dog is friendly and whether or not the dog will accept your attention. It also gives the human the chance to manage the interaction — giving you direction about what type of attention the dog responds to, and whether or not to use a treat.

Keep calm and carry on…slowly: Coming up and making a lot of overly excited noises and movements may be fun for you, and even for the dog. But you’re making their human’s life miserable because, over time, this behavior conditions the dog to accept human interactions in a very excitable way, and the over stimulation will make it challenging for them to control their responses.

Instead, move with an easy, calming demeanor and keep your voice level.

Get consent from the dog: This is such an important part of the interaction. Forcing a dog into an interaction before reading their body language may cause them to cross the line into fight or flight mode.

You may be wondering, how does a dog give consent? It’s simpler than you think — through their body language.

If a dog’s body language manifests in the following ways, it’s best to keep your distance: tail between their legs, running from you, ears back, hiding behind their human, growling, hackles go up.

Don’t take it personally. They’re just not that into you.

“Whale eye” is when you see the dog recoil slightly or retreat and you can see the whites of their eyes. People often mistake this look as a friendly sign because it looks pretty cute. But it’s actually a sign that the dog is not comfortable.

“Clown face” may be very deceiving. This is when a dog looks like they are smiling or laughing, but trust me, they aren’t clowning around at this point. It’s a clear sign the dog is stressed out and beginning to shut down.

Some more subtle signs include yawning out of context or licking their lips.

The right kind of petting: Never pet a dog on the top of the head first. While some dogs may not mind it, most like to be able to see where your hand is going — and they can’t see what’s over their head. So, they may feel like this move is overpowering.

Instead, when a dog approaches you to be pet, Carlos recommends getting down to their level by lowering to one knee off to their side (not directly in front of them). This is a far less intimidating position from the dog’s perspective.

Then, pet under the scruff of their neck. If after a few moments, they walk away, let them. No one likes to be chased, and it just makes you seem desperate. Seriously, be cool.

Do not approach dogs that are tied to a pole or bike while their owners are inside a store: The dog is vulnerable and not able to get away if they need to. Even if they want the interaction, you are not getting important information from the owner about the best way to engage. So just don’t.

If you’re a dog lover, here is an inconvenient truth that may sting your ego a bit, but trust me, it’s important: Even if you’re a person that believes that all dogs love you, I’m sorry to report that not all dogs love you.

So when you meet a dog you haven’t met before, don’t assume they are going to love you as much as you want to love them. It’s no more appropriate to walk up to a stranger on the street and give them a big hug than it is to do the same to a dog.

In either circumstance, you may find yourself getting bit.


As a child, Jack Hagerman founded and operated his own make-shift animal rescue — taking in stray cats, injured birds, and the occasional bunny. As an adult, he co-founded a critically endangered livestock conservancy on his farm in the Midwest, where he cared for and rehabilitated more than 400 animals in 17 different critically endangered livestock species. He formerly worked with Pasadena Humane and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society. When he isn’t working with animals, he’s writing about them — hoping to create a better world for our animal friends, one witty tangent at a time.

Source: Orange County Register

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply