The first, most important rule in Safe Dog Handling is, NEVER, EVER, NEVER leave a child and a dog alone unsupervised. Dogs are domesticated animals who can learn to love and accept children, but dogs are not genetically hardwired to understand and tolerate all children all of the time. Teach children to NEVER approach a strange dog. Teach the child to always ask permission and then show the young person the proper way to greet a new dog.

Dogs do not like straight ahead greetings. Direct approaches (walking or moving directly in front of a dog) are perceived by some dogs as being menacing, aggressive and frightening or rude. Keep your body in a sideways position to the dog. It is best not to approach, wait and allow the dog to approach you . If you do approach a dog, be sure and move very slowly. Keep all of your body movements very slow and deliberate. Do not make direct eye contact. Direct eye contact from a human (or another animal) is seen as threatening or aggressive in the dog world. Avert your eyes and turn your head away from the dog.

NEVER lean over and pet a dog! Contrary to popular belief (myth), some dogs don’t particularly care to be petted and especially on the top of their heads. Dogs like to be touched in affectionate ways with their people but can be “hand shy” with strangers. Don’t lean over a dog. Most dogs won’t mind but dogs with confidence issues will most likely object. Let the dog approach you. Hold out your hand and give the dog a tasty treat. If the dog approaches for a scratch, then gently and slowly rub the pup. Dogs like slow, soft repetitive touches such as doggie massage.

NEVER corner or chase after a dog if the dog has sought refuge under a table, bed, or in his crate. Honor the dog’s need for social space. If a dog has taken an object that could be harmful to him or a valuable object the dog could harm, engage the dog in an object exchange using a nice tempting treat. Do not attempt to remove the item from the dog.

If a dog growls, NEVER attempt to correct or punish the growl. The growl is the dog’s only way of communicating it’s displeasure, discomfort or fear over a particular situation. It is a dog’s way of warning: stop what you are doing now, don’t come any closer, go away, etc. Honor that. If we correct or punish out a growl then the dog will not have a means of communicating a warning and may resort to a direct bite.

Dogs communicate to other dogs, animals and to their humans via calming signals or appeasement gestures. These are all part of canine language or canine behavior signaling. Some commons gestures are: averting the eyes, slow exaggerated head turning, yawning, stretching, personal grooming (licking), sitting down, turning away from a person or other dog and scratching the ground. Dogs will put their bodies in a sidewise arc and also engage in splitting. When two dogs (or people) become extremely physically close a dog may feel compelled to split them up and move in between them. This can be seen quite often at dog parks and doggie daycare facilities. People living in multiple dog households can also observe this behavior. Herding dogs are particularly prone to splitting in their efforts to control movement.

Keep in mind that dogs are individuals just like people. Some dogs may be more shy than others. Don’t expect your dog to like all other dogs and all people all of the time. After all, we humans don’t like all people and all dogs all of the time either.


Katherine Smith

Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants), Professional Member APDT, (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), AKC Canine Good Citizenship Evaluator, Animal Behavioral College Mentor