Safely Meeting An Unfamiliar Dog in 3 Steps
We often encounter unfamiliar dogs in our daily lives. While walking through the neighborhood, we may meet neighbors walking their dogs. Dogs and their owners also frequent public places like parks and outdoor seating at restaurants. Visiting loved ones during the holidays and on other occasions like birthdays and anniversaries can also bring us in contact with pets we have never met before or that we haven’t seen in a long time.
Just because an animal is out in public or is owned by someone you know does not necessarily mean that they are safe to interact with. It’s important to be cautious when meeting a dog you don’t know because, under the right set of circumstances, any dog can bite. No one wants to be bitten by a dog, and it is important to exercise caution, especially if the pet owners are being even the least bit negligent. We hope this article will help to keep you and the dog you interact with safe from any incidents.
Pay attention to the Dog’s mood
Being greeted by an unfamiliar dog who is immediately happy to see you can be fun, and a wagging tail can be an indicator that it’s safe to interact with a dog. However, not all dogs will be excited to see you, so if a dog is not showing you that they are happy to see you, it is best to keep your distance. Dogs may get nervous around people they don’t know or because they are having a rough day. Dogs are also territorial, and some do not enjoy interacting with people. Trying to be friendly with an unfriendly dog could be a recipe for disaster, especially if their owners have not taken precautions such as putting them on a leash or giving them a protective barrier like a crate or a fence. For instance, territorial dogs may get uncomfortable if they feel like you are entering their territory and could get aggressive. If you find yourself in a situation with an unfamiliar dog who may or may not be happy to see you, try the following tips:
Ask the owner if you can approach and meet their dog
If you’re out in public and see an adorable but unfamiliar dog that you really want to meet and pet, make sure to ask the owner first, even if the dog is friendly- just in case. Owners should be familiar enough with the moods and body language of their pets and should be able to tell you if it’s safe to interact with their dog. To avoid a dog bite, always check with the owner before beginning the interaction, even if the dog attempts to greet you first. Responsible owners will likely observe the dog’s desire to interact and will be proactive about letting you know whether or not it is safe, but sometimes you may have to ask.
If you are entering a friend or family member’s house and are immediately greeted by their dog, you may not have time to check. In this case, do not make eye contact with the dog and focus on the people first. During this passive interaction, try to double-check with the pet owners if it’s okay for you to be interacting with their dog. Again, the responsible pet owners are more likely to be proactive and control situations with their pets so you can be properly and safely introduced. But, in the event that this doesn’t happen, you can ask them to give you indications on how to safely interact with their pet, even if you’ve met them before.
Introduce yourself to the dog slowly and calmly
Once an owner gives you permission to greet their dog, or you finish greeting the people you’ve come to see, and they give you permission to interact with their pet, you can begin the introduction. Allow them to sniff you before you start petting them, even if you’ve met them before. Just because you remember this animal does not mean that they remember you. If the dog seems tense or is glaring at you, do not pet them. Give the dog the opportunity to leave before you begin petting them. A few sniffs do not mean that you are suddenly familiar and can interact with them however you want. They may not be interested in you after the sniff, so do not pursue them if they walk away. They are choosing not to spend time with you, and although that may hurt because you love pets, it’s best to give them their space. Just like people, dogs are autonomous, and their moods can change.
If a dog remains calm after they sniff you and their owner says it’s okay to keep interacting, you can advance your contact with them. You may choose to gently stroke them. Experts recommend you pause at every three strokes so that the dogs have the opportunity to leave if they feel they need to. If the dog moves away from you before the three pets are finished or once you’ve started petting them again after the break, allow them to leave. They’re no longer interested in being petted. Remember not to hug the dog, even if they respond positively to your affection. Holding dogs close can make them feel threatened and nervous, which could provoke a bite.
These tips work best when you come into contact with pet owners who are responsible for their dogs. There are, however, situations where pet owners may neglect to take precautions, and in cases like that, it is best to maintain a safe distance altogether. For example, if you see an unfamiliar dog tied to a pole or waiting in a trunk bed while the owner is in a store or away for another reason, do not approach the dog. You do not know the dog’s temperament or current mood; plus, dogs are territorial, so even if they look happy when you’re nearby, they may defend their car or pole if you get too close.
What if you know the dog that is waiting without an owner? We still suggest that you do not approach it. Again, you do not know the dog’s mood, and it may be defensive of the place they are waiting for. Checking with the owner is always the best policy before interacting with an animal.
Another time you want to avoid meeting an unfamiliar dog is if they are off their leash, even if they are playing. Do not call them over even if they look like they are happy. They may be over-excited from their free play and could accidentally hurt you in their excitement. If they are off their leash and showing any signs of aggression, we recommend gaining as much distance as possible and finding a way to put a safety barrier between you as soon as possible.
If you are around stray or injured dogs, it is also important to remain calm. Do not make eye contact with unfamiliar dogs, as this can be seen as an act of aggression, and a lost or hurt dog is more likely to be on edge and predisposed to bite. Read the dog’s body language as the interaction continues. If at any point they become tense, bark, or snarl, back (but do not run) away. Since dogs are natural hunters, running away from them, signals that you are prey, and they may pursue you, resulting in a dog bite. A dog bite is a painful experience, and we hope this article helps you avoid such an uncomfortable situation.
If a dog recently bit you or a loved one, Zagoria Law wants to help you. Dog bites are more common than many people realize, and we are always happy to help people seek justice and compensation after such a painful incident.