Ask a Vet: How Should I Greet a Dog?


Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!

It's hard to walk five feet in this city without seeing an adorable dog we want to meet–but we never stop to think if there's a right way or a wrong way to go about it. Turns out there is, and if you follow the SF SPCA's helpful tips, you'll be rewarded with snuggles.

Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs, with almost 1 in 5 people requiring medical attention. In honor of National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 19-25), the SF SPCA is distributing some helpful tips provided by Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS, to reduce the likelihood of being bitten by man's best friend:

Human to Dog Contact
1. Avoid reaching in or towards the dog's car.
2. Avoid rushing up.
3. Avoid interacting with unfamiliar dogs, especially if they're tied up.
4. Avoid staring at the dog or approaching head-on.
5. Avoid leaning over or towards dogs even when you change position to squat or get up.
6. Avoid reaching your hand out for the dog to sniff.
7. Avoid petting if the dog looks nervous or tense. Just admire him instead.
8. Avoid hugging, kissing, and patting roughly. This is too familiar and disliked by many dogs.

Human to Dog Contact
1. Stand a safe distance away so that you are not a threat.
2. Approach slowly (at a relaxed walk).
3. Ask if you can interact first.
4. Approach sideways and look using your peripheral vision.
5. Stay outside the dog's bubble and present your side to the dog.
6. Let the dog approach at his own rate.
7. It's OK to pet the dog if he looks relaxed, comes up to you, and solicits your attention by rubbing against you.
8.  Pet gently.

For even more immersive, interactive instruction, you could meet the SF SPCA's trainers in Dolores Park this Saturday at the 3rd Annual The Whole Enchihuahua! Their behavior and training team will teach you some tips and tricks, and your pup can enjoy a run on our rally course! You can also treat your dog to a free dental check, take a spin on their prize wheel, gorge yourself on treats from four food trucks, meet adoptable animals and—wait for it—you could enter the infamous doggie costume contest. Open to all dogs, the only criteria to enter is flair!

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