Fear of dogs? 7 Tips for safely meeting a strange dog

dog looking up at owner

Does your dog bite?” That is the first question we ask when we first encounter a dog that we haven’t met before. Although it seldom happens, a strange dog might indeed bite you, depending on your actions and the way you approach it.

Maybe you are also one of those people who never feel quite comfortable around dogs. Generally trying to avoid them isn’t a permanent solution, since meeting strange dogs in a park or at somebody else’s home is just a part of everyday life.

The following seven helpful tips might help you deal with those scenarios and will prevent your leg from turning into a dog’s chewing toy, or worse.

1 – Avoid eye contact at all cost!

A Dog looking into the camera

Avoiding eye contact when meeting a dog is the first golden rule to respect. Never, under any circumstances, look a dog directly into its eyes. Translated into human words, it is rude, unpleasant, and it calls for a challenge.

If it happens that you meet an aggressive dog, the challenge will be kindly accepted, and unless you have an absurdly thick skin or a body armour, you might experience a painful moment.

2 – Don’t go to them, let them come to you!

A dog sniffing on a hand to say hello

You don’t go to someone’s house and start randomly wandering around their rooms. People you met recently usually offer to make a house tour.

With dogs, it is the same, they need to make sure that you are actually part of the pack and not a threat. Where do you come from? Who do you live with? Do you have a dog living with you? Are you afraid of something? Are you nervous? And why?

Dogs get a lot of information by sniffing us. After they finish, we have a green light to move around the house.

3 – Don’t be the first to touch!

A dog giving high five

You might be meeting the nicest dog in the world, but you still need to tie up your hands and avoid being the first to make physical contact. When we meet someone, we first see the person, then we touch (shake hands), and their smell is the last thing we perceive. Dogs do the exact opposite.

When dogs are born, they have their eyes closed so they detect the presence of their mother through smelling her. Needless to say, that smell plays a big role in a dog’s life.

When a dog wants to check you out, it first smells you, even from further away.
Then it approaches you, gets comfortable around you, and finally doesn’t even mind to make eye contact.

Quickly moving your hands towards strange dogs straight away could be perceived as a threat or aggression, and should be avoided!

4 – Don’t speak to them directly, at least not right away!

A women speaking with a dog
“Talk to your dog 5/7” by bigkid/7p4x is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Dogs can’t understand their owners’ words, but they recognize the tone, and most importantly, they are used to a person’s voice. The story is different with us, the strangers. They need to hear our voices and get used to it. Once the sound starts being familiar, they will be ok if we talk to them.

Being too loud should generally be avoided around dogs. Their hearing is much more sensitive than ours, and they could react to unpleasant volumes in unexpected ways.

5 – Don’t make abrupt movements!

A dog biting into the camera
“A momentary lapse of madness” by anguila40 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It is necessary to stay calm, at least during the first moments of meeting a strange dog. After avoiding eye contact, let them sniff and touch you before giving you the pass, but remember that they will still be suspicious for a while.

Don’t start jumping and running around right away, we need to let our presence feel normal to them as a new member of their environment. Just stay cool and relax, chances are the dog doesn’t care much about you at all and will stroll along straight away.

6 – Don’t try to bribe a hostile dog with food!

A cute dog lookin dor something

While dogs are generally known not to miss out on a snack, it’s possible a strange dog is suspicious about you and will not take your offering. There is also a slight chance that the owner won’t appreciate you feeding their dog without asking first.

Wait until a strange dog got used to you and then give them a treat, if the owner is okay with it! They’ll appreciate it by being friendly towards you in the future.

7 – Ignoring them is the best way to say “Hello!”

A dig sitting an waiting

Despite being known as the best friend of man, dogs are very different from us. They can’t deal with chaos, and they feel most safe and protected in routine and daily structure. If a dog could speak, the most it could ask for would be a peaceful and dull life full of repetition.

As a stranger, we are intruders that are breaking a dogs routine, e.g. being used to only having certain people around. No wonder dogs can feel hostile towards us at first, especially when the intruder tries to interact with the dog straight away.

Just pretending the dog isn’t there to make your presence feel less unusual is the best course of action!

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