Saying Hello the Right Way to a Dog: A Guide for Humans

Updated: Jan 10

You’re walking along, sniffing the ground and suddenly a giant human hand comes at your head! It’s scary. It’s frustrating. It’s rude. It happens a lot!

Why? Why do some humans do this? True, our natural doggy cuteness, especially when we are puppies, overwhelms some humans and they lose their senses.


But speaking Straight from the Snout™, there’s no excuse for bad human manners!


Your human’s role is not just to feed you and love you, but to also protect you. Humans forget this, particularly, when they feel safe.


Humans are used to us dogs protecting and alerting them to danger. Historically, it’s one of the reasons we partnered with humans thousands of years ago.

So, it’s easy for our humans to forget that we need protecting too, even when we’re just walking around the block with our human family.


Here’s some information for your humans on why and how to protect you and also some tips for humans on how to say hello the right way to a dog.


Why Your Humans Should Stop Random Humans and Children Before They Touch a Dog?

There are a number of reasons why your human should stop random incidents of petting or touching by strangers.

  • Do You Know Where That Human’s Hands Have Been? Some humans or children may have come in contact with a toxic substance or something that will cause an allergic reaction if they touch a dog. Just because a substance is okay for humans to handle, doesn’t make it safe for dogs. Our noses pick up things human eyes don’t. The human may have handled something that has left a noxious smell or toxin on their hands. We’re not humans. So, we wouldn’t react like a human and show obvious signs of distress until maybe it’s too late. Better safe than sorry.

  • Help Avoid Creating an Animal Control Incident. If an unknown human or child grabs a dog, then naturally the dog will react. Since not all humans speak dog, there’s a lot of room for misunderstanding. Some humans will overreact to a natural doggy reaction and could call animal control. Best to protect your dog and prevent an unwanted non-consensual interaction.

  • Support Positive Dog Mental Health. Us dogs don’t like it when our heads are touched, or our personal space is threatened. It causes some dogs to become anxious if their personal space is threatened. Especially if the dog is a rescue or shelter dog, they may have negative association with being touched a certain way. In those cases, a human hand thrust into a dog’s face or patting their head may be re-traumatizing the dog.

  • Help Teach Other Humans and Children to Respect a Dog’s Personal Space. Only way for humans to learn to respect a dog's space is for other humans to say something. Like humans, us dogs don’t like someone touching us or entering our personal space without our consent. When your human stops another human from randomly touching you, it helps educate other human on how to approach a dog correctly.

What Your Humans Should Do When You’re Out Walking.

  • Your human should always be watching you and also scanning your surroundings. They should not be reading or texting on their phones. Your human is your eyes and your protector. When you are intently sniffing the messages left by other dogs, you need your human to watch out for random strangers, scary skateboards or whatever it may be.

  • Pull You to the Side of the Street, Walkway or into a Driveway When Another Human is Coming Towards You. In some cities and towns there is very little space for all the humans, joggers, bicycles, children and dogs. It’s crowded. And when things get crowded, the potential for a dog and human misunderstanding increases. Better safe than sorry. Making space by pulling you to the side of the path, or taking you aside may prevent a dog-human misunderstanding before it happens.

  • Your Human Should Place their Body Between Your Dog Body and the Other Human or Child Walking By. Humans, who have a habit of putting their hands out to grab or pat dogs as they walk by, usually won’t try to touch you if your human’s body is between you and them. It takes more effort for a human or child to grab or pet you (without your consent) if they have to go around your human.

What Your Human Should Do When a Human Hand Is Coming for Your Head.

  • Identify the Action by Saying Stop! If a stranger is going in for an non-consensual touch or grab, then your humans should say stop. This word is very effective on other humans. It usually startles the person, who is disrespecting your personal dog space. And it gives your human the opportunity to assess the stranger’s understanding and respect for a dog’s personal space.

  • Label the Behaviour as Violating Your Personal Dog Space. Your human doesn’t have to get angry, but they should identify the negative human behaviour. It’s just like when they tell us to stop chewing something or stop eating something. You human doesn’t have to get upset with the offending human. They could say in a calm and firm voice, “Please ask before you pet my dog.” If your human is not comfortable with being direct, then they can opt for the simple, “My dog is in training. Please ask me before you pet my dog.” When your human does this it can open up a positive conversation between your human and the stranger about how to properly say hello to a dog.

  • Your Human Should Always Thank a Stranger for Complying with Their Request. If the stranger stops before engaging in non-consensually grabbing or petting you, then your human should thank the stranger for respecting your personal dog space. There’s no point in getting into a barking match.

If a Stranger Asks Your Human if They Can Pet You?

  • Your Human Should Explain to the Stranger How to Say Hello The Right Way and How to Approach You. Some humans think all dogs are the same, or that because they have a dog they understand all dogs. That’s not always true. Like every human, every dog is different. Just because another dog tolerates their human's behaviour at home, doesn’t mean that another dog will.


How Humans Should Approach You?


Any human approaching dog should do the following:

  • Stand sideways with open body language when meeting a dog. A human should never crowd your personal doggy space. They should also never stand right up against you or tower over you.

  • Offer the palm or flats of their hands to the dog to sniff. Humans usually offer the tops of their hands. But showing their knuckles or even a clenched fist may trigger dogs who have had bad experiences. Also, humans have more sweat glands on the palms of their hands. In fact, according to a synopsis on human skin by Krzysztof Kobielak, et al in Translational Regenerative Medicine (2015), [i]n humans, roughly 1.6 to 5 million sweat glands are found in the skin. A majority of those glands on a human’s palms and feet. So, there’s a lot more information for us dogs to sniff out when a human shows us the palm of their hand.

  • Remember it's rude to stare. Glance periodically at the dog and never stare into the dog’s eyes. Just look periodically at the dog while talking to the dog's human. Whether it’s among humans or animals, an unbroken stare with any animal can be considered confrontational. While a family dog gazing at their human may be relaxing, when a stranger randomn human or child does it to a dog it can be alarming. Also, if a dog is a rescue, staring can be particularly uncomfortable. Mikkel Becker from VetStreet.com writes, “eye-to-eye is likely viewed by your dog as more of a threat than a measure of good will.

  • Wait for the dog to come closer. Humans aren’t always patient. They reach to pet or touch a dog before ensuring the dog is comfortable with them or has given them their doggy consent to be touched. Sudden movements can scare a dog. Also, some dog breeds are naturally shy and humans forcing themselves on a shy dog can make them nervous or develop anxiety.

  • Pet the dog’s sides and shoulders first gently. Don’t pet a dog’s head without the dog's consent or human's permission. Truth is dogs don’t like it when strange humans or children pet their head. We tolerate it because we’re being polite. Remember just because your own dog let’s you pet their head, doesn’t mean other dogs will or that dogs like it. Most often a dog lets their human pet its head because you are part of their family. Also remember, no two dogs are the same.

  • Back off and wait for the dog to come to you. Humans who show a dog they respect their personal space will be rewarded. Humans should remember it takes time to build a relationship with a dog, in particular, a dog that is not their own dog and is new to them. Humans meeting a dog for the first time should be patient and not push a dog into an interaction they aren’t ready for.

  • Look Human, If a Dog’s Just Not That into You, It’s Okay. Just Move On. Not ever human likes every human. Not every dog likes every dog. And sometimes a dog isn’t that into you and it’s okay. When a dog chooses not to engage with you, it’s not from a place of judgment. Being judgey is a human thing…and maybe a cat thing, but it’s not a dog thing. Dogs have moods and feelings. They may be feeling tired, getting over an illness or just not into you. It’s important to respect the dog’s choice to not engage with a human. If a dog is showing signs of avoidance, then respect the dog’s space and choice.

To help your humans, the people at Instinct Dog Behavior & Training have put together a great video for humans to watch on How to Greet a Dog Safely: Do’s and Don’ts.

It’s a great watch and good aid for your human.



Special thanks to Karin Apfel for bringing the video How to Greet a Dog Safely: Do’s and Don’ts to the attention of TollerTails.com.


The content of this article is intended to provide a general overview to the subject matter. Specialist advice from licensed specialists should be sought regarding you and/or your dog’s specific circumstances.


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