How to greet a canine

Greeting - to meet or receive.

The man approached the Golden Retriever, looking into the dog's eyes; he bent over to say hi as the dog backed up looking for a place to hide.  The human pressed on, bending over further and reaching out to touch the dog.  The dog was speaking loud and clear; "no closer human," but the human didn't see the dog's communication.  It played out the like most greetings.  Human's really don't know how to greet dogs. 

From my vantage point I could clearly see that the Golden was stressed.  He had no desire to meet the human and could barely handle being in the store.  His Mom had brought him in for socializing but it was too much; it was going to do more harm than good.  I walked by without looking at the dog and kept on going.  

Dogs have accomplished a great deal as far as living in our human world.  We humans on the other hand can't seem to get that dogs deal with things differently than we do.  Greetings are probably one of the biggest differences and they remain vastly separated by our lack of knowledge and and desire to learn.  

Humans greet head on.  We approach other humans with direct eye contact, often a hand reached out ready for a shake and maybe a smile.  Great for humans, not so much dogs.  When it comes to greeting dogs, we do the same.  Direct approach, eye contact and the reach out for the top of the head. Stop greeting dogs like this. 

When I have a new training client I go to their home.  I walk in, greet the owner as humans do and watch the dog with my peripheral vision.  My body is relaxed and slightly turned away; I am watching the dog but not looking at them.   This moment is filled with information for me as well as for the dog.  I will not do an official greeting on day one.  Even later on I often never greet, I simply walk in and do.  

If I walked into a new home, stood straight on, looking into the dog's eyes while reaching over to touch the dog, things would unfold very differently.     
Why, why, why do we feel the need to touch?  Even when people tell others that their dog does not like people, the people keep coming.  "Dogs love me," they state as if something magical about them will change everything.  This was often the case with my Tilley when she was young.  She was never interested in a big hello.  Even very people friendly dogs do not want to be touched by everyone.  

Dogs communicate via body language and their messages come fast and furious.  Most humans do not see any of their communication and just approach with what they know about a dog, nothing.  

I regularly ask people "did you see that?"  And the answer is typically no.  Dogs sends so many signs to us; filled with so much information but we just don't see any of them.  It is often just the big ones that we humans see.  

There is much to be seen, even in very young puppies; there is much that can be missed if you don't know what to look for.  

As far as greeting, if you have the strong need to touch a dog; do it at their chest level.  DO NOT reach over a dogs head.  We humans cannot grasp this idea; even if we have read it and been told.  Dogs do not like to be pet on the top of their head.  But you will see it continually as you will see dogs moving away from the hand. Ducking and backing up are commonly seen when a hand comes over their head.  That is because it is a very rude human behavior; one that dogs do not do among themselves, unless their is a conflict. 

I could go on and on and on about how to greet a dog.  There are many levels of relationships and within those, many levels of greetings.  Of course the greeting with your own dog will be very different as will it be with friends, family and acquaintances.  Specific relationships hold limits and allowances for each. 

It seems funny, but the more extensive your knowledge of dog behavior becomes; the less likely you are to greet strange dogs.  

As a general rule of thumb; if it is not your dog:


approach head on.

bend over as you approach.

give direct eye contact.

reach out to touch.

greet at all without asking.

EVER greet a dog tied alone outside a shop.

attempt to kiss or hug, EVER.

Do - 

stand sideways. 

hang your hands loosely by your side.

wait for the dog to approach you.  

remain calm and relaxed.

watch for signs that the dog would like to say hello.

Above all else, watch the dog's reaction to what you are doing.  Don't just blindly go in all human.