How to Greet a Dog

I love dogs a lot. A lot a lot. I do not often greet them, however.

So I guess the first tip in “Greeting dogs 101” is “Don’t.”

This is a bit of an exaggeration of course. Every situation is different and sometimes it is fine to say hello to a dog, but when in doubt, don’t bother.

Illustration courtesy of

Here are some situations where I definitely will not greet a dog:

  • The dog is ignoring me. No matter what it’s doing, be it sniffing the ground, playing fetch with its owner, or laying quietly on the ground at a coffee shop. If the dog is ignoring me, I ignore it.
  • The dog’s owner is not nearby. A no-brainer, but please do not greet dogs that are tied up alone outside a store. That is a bite waiting to happen, and the fault would lay with both you and the person who tied the dog up, but not with the poor dog.
  • The dog is paying attention to me, but not in a good way. If a dog is scared of me, I’m not going to make it worse by running over and patting it on the head.

Here are situations where I will say hi to a dog, if the owner says it’s ok (always ask):

  • The dog is actively soliciting my attention.

That’s it.

Dogs do not often solicit my attention, and so as a result, I do not often say hello to them 😊

Betsy, being very strange, often solicits petting by doing a somersault into me

If I do find myself in a situation where I’m saying hi to a strange dog, I like to let the dog lead the interaction. I will put my hand down for it to sniff, I angle my body slightly to the side, and I do not stare directly at the dog.

At this point, I may pet the dog. But I may not. It depends on the dog’s vibe. If they want to wander around and sniff me, I let them do that without harassing them by trying to touch them. If they walk away, that’s cool too.

If they’re lingering and seem friendly and interested in being pet, I may lightly rub a dog’s front chest area to start. I don’t pet it on the head or anywhere else on its body unless it positions itself in such a way that it seems to be requesting something (e.g. a butt scratch).

I think it’s pretty clear that this dog would like some love and attention 🙂

Betsy, for example, often requests butt scratches from strangers, but she generally dislikes strangers patting her on the head. And I think this is quite common for many dogs.

Small dogs especially do not like to be loomed over. Do not loom. Do not reach as if you’re going to pick them up.

Do not restrain a dog ever (no hugs!) Do not put your face close to their face (potentially scary for the dog + you’re basically presenting the worst possible part of your body for a bite. Much better to be bit on the hand than the face!)

Let the dog walk away at any time, and do not pursue it if it does. Let the dog decide what it wants.

Most dogs are quite tolerant, so even if you do everything wrong, you probably won’t get bit. But that doesn’t mean it was pleasant for the dog, and what’s the point in saying hello to a dog if it doesn’t enjoy it?

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