Something that I struggle with as the owner of an anxious dog is individuals who aren’t familiar with the proper etiquette of how to approach someone with a dog.
Jet is a nervous dog. He is also a senior dog with poor eyesight. That means that when strangers come barrelling towards him, he becomes fearful.
Unfortunately, not everyone is familiar with how to properly approach someone with a dog.
More unfortunately, since Jet is a labrador, many parents are under the impression that he is a big goofball who loves kids and showers affection on everyone. This often leads to strangers allowing their children to run as fast as they can towards my dog with arms wide open.
What happens when that happens? Because I know my dog, I can step in and stop the situation before it escalates. What would happen if I didn’t step in? I know from experience that MY dog would cower, urinate, tuck his tail, and growl. He may also opt to hightail it out of there which means either dislocating my shoulder or dragging me across a busy road full of traffic.
Now, the fact that my dog would do these things does not show a lack of training on his part, it shows a lack of respect on the approaching human’s part.
We have done EVERYTHING in our power to work with Jet on being a more confident, less fearful, and less anxious dog. Unfortunately, he retains a certain degree of anxiety and fear that we have had to learn to work with. What makes working with this fear more difficult is people who fail to follow proper doggy etiquette – these people reinforce for my dog that there IS something out there to be afraid of. These unpredictable, personal space invading, loud and grabby people are the proverbial monster under the bed for my boy.
So what IS proper doggy etiquette?
How to Approach Someone with a Dog
How to Approach Someone With a Dog When You Are Alone
Get the individual’s attention in a non-threatening manner – “Excuse me!”
Ask permission to approach and introduce yourself to their dog – “Would it be okay if I said hello to your dog?”
If they say no – “no problem, sorry to have bothered you!”
If they say yes – approach slowly without looking the dog in the eye, come to the side of the dog rather than in front of them, stand or squat beside the dog but don’t bend over them.
If the dog shows any signs of fear, anxiety, or aggression, step away immediately and do not try to reapproach.
If the dog holds a friendly and welcoming posture, offer the back of your closed fist to the dog so that they may “investigate” you. If they remain welcoming to you, you may pet them on the neck, shoulders, or back. Do not pet them on the head or near the mouth. Refrain from eye contact.
Be mindful of the dog’s owner, talk with them while petting their dog rather than ignoring them. Also be aware that the dog’s owner may be on a timeline so don’t detain them for an hour just so that you can pet their dog!
How to Approach Someone With a Dog When You Have a Child
If you are with a child, approach the situation as you would above. Be sure to let the dog’s owner know that you have a child who would like to say hello just in case the dog’s owner has not noticed your child.
Do not wait until you are within arms reach of the dog before asking to approach.
Do not let your child run towards a dog.
Keep hold of your child’s hand at all times.
If the dog owner asks you not to approach, be sure to give them a wide berth and don’t take it personally, the dog’s owner is keeping you and your child’s safety in mind.
If the dog owner allows you to approach, supervise your child constantly. Guide them in how to properly introduce themselves to the dog and ensure that they are being gentle.
At no time should you take your eye off your child when they are interacting with a dog.
How to Approach Someone With a Dog When You Have a Dog
If you are out with your dog and spot someone out with their dog it can be tempting to dart over and say hello. Keep in mind, though, that not all dogs are comfortable with being approached or with having another dog in their personal space.
Before approaching and before coming within lunging range of either dog, ask if it’s okay for you and your dog to approach – “Is it okay if we say hello?”
Please avoid asking “is your dog friendly?” This forces us to say yes or no and categorize our dog as “good” or “bad” when there is much more to it than just that!
If the dog owner requests that you do not approach for any reason, either pull your dog off the path and put them in a sit and hold until the other dog passes with their owner, or walk around the other dog and their owner giving them a wide berth.
If you are the dog owner who has a reactive dog that should not be approached, it is always best for you to maintain control of your dog by pulling off the path and putting your dog in a sit and hold until others have passed. It is easier for your dog to lunge and for you to lose control if you are the one moving, so simply direct the other dog owner to “go ahead”.
If the dog owner allows you to approach with your dog, keep your dog on a shorter leash so that you maintain control of them at all times. Keep a constant eye on your dog and the other dog’s body language for any signs of discomfort, fear, or aggression. If you notice any of these signs remove your dog from the situation immediately.
Do not get distracted from the dogs if you are talking to the other dog owner, it only takes a second for things to go wrong when dogs are interacting.
Watch your dog to make sure that they are playing well with the other dog. If they are being too bothersome or energetic or showing too much dominance, remove your dog to avoid testing the other dog’s patience.
How to Approach Someone With Multiple Dogs or When You Have Multiple Dogs
It really is that simple.
In order for you to have full control over your dog, you need to have a ratio of one human to one dog. Once that ratio gets any higher, control over the dogs is limited and dangerous situations can arise.
How to Approach Someone With a Dog and a Child or a Dog and Baggage
Again, with multiple things keeping them busy, they do not have full control over their dog so it is best not to approach.
If you are alone and may be able to offer assistance, for example, someone leaving the pet store with a large bag of food, a dog, and a child, ask if there is anything you can do to help. If the person accepts your offer, ask them what you can do to help. If the person refuses your help just go about your day!
How to Approach Someone With a Dog Who is Avoiding Eye Contact or Moving Away
Avoiding eye contact or moving away from you is a subtle indication that this person does not want to be approached for whatever reason. It may be that the person is anxious or it may be that their dog is not accepting of being approached, but whatever it is, respect the dog owners wishes.
A Final Note on How to Approach Someone With a Dog
If you have a dog who does not do well in public situations, be mindful of this. Consult a behavioral trainer to help you to work on this and in the meantime avoid putting your dog in any situation where they could become reactive. If you do need to go somewhere, for example, the vet, consider muzzling your dog and investing in a harness with a “Do Not Approach” patch or a leash flag with the same message.
Your dog is your responsibility which means that you need to protect them as well as the safety of those around them.