Updated: Aug 21, 2021
We just can’t resist. When we meet an adorable new dog the first thing many of us want to do is to get right up close, maybe even wrap our arms around the the irresistible fur ball and give him a big hug. While our own dogs or those who are familiar with us may accept this form of attention wholeheartedly, most would really rather you didn’t. When meeting a dog for the first time, it’s wiser to restrain yourself.
Why? We humans just love a good hug! We crave what’s called ventral-ventral, or heart to heart contact. It's what we do when we want to express our affection, our feelings of care and connection to those we love.
But greeting a new dog with a hug is a bit like putting someone you’ve just met into a headlock. It’s extremely rude behavior, particularly when that dog doesn’t even
know who you are! To put your arms around a dog’s body is to restrict his ability to remove himself from a situation he may find threatening. If he is comfortable with you and trusts you, he may be just fine with it, even learn to love it. But try that with an unfamiliar or insecure dog, and you may get yourself bitten.
Here’s a far more polite way to introduce yourself that will put the pup at ease:
Avoid staring into the dog’s eyes, bending over at the waist, hovering, or extending your hand or fist. These are all very threatening postures.
Don't place your hand over the dog's head (another threatening gesture). Many dogs prefer to be petted around the chest or neck area. Just stroke gently, don't pat. Keep in mind that some dogs may have areas of the body that are sore or sensitive. It's not uncommon for older dogs to have arthritis in their hips, for example.
When we meet others we ask, "what's you name?" When dogs meet others, they want to know, “what’s your smell?” While we rely on lots of language to get to know one another, dogs use their sense of smell to gather a great deal of information about those they meet.
By allowing the dog to check you out first, rather than overwhelming him with lots of attention immediately, you're letting him know there is nothing to fear from you. This is the best way to greet a new dog who may be shy or unsure of new humans. He will thank you for it. He might even give you a kiss!