You see a cute pup out for a walk with his owner, and you find the dog so appealing that it’s all you can do not to reach out to him right then. He looks friendly enough, but you aren’t quite sure. Should you pet him, or shouldn’t you? You don’t know this dog or his owner. It’s always best to ask if it’s okay before you pet a stranger’s dog. You might save yourself a bite on the hand, or worse. The owner can let you know if the dog is safe to pet or not.

Slow Movements

Never rush up to a strange dog, and don’t make any quick movements around him. Approach him slowly, but not fearfully. Give him time to see you coming. Moving too quickly can frighten a dog that doesn’t know you, causing him to react to protect himself or his owner. Slow movements will let him know that you mean no harm. Also try to avoid eye contact as you approach, as he may see that as a challenge.

Puppy Panic

Puppies often don’t know what to do if someone approaches him when he is away from home. The puppy may be very frightened and panic. This can result in the puppy trying to flee or jumping at you and nipping you—neither of which is good. It's helpful to get the owner's name if there's an accident.

To avoid this, stop a short distance away from the puppy. It’s better to let the puppy come to you than for you to risk scaring him. Let him smell you, too. A careful approach will often make it a pleasant experience for all involved.

Hands Down

When you reach out to a strange dog, do so with a closed fist, your palm facing downward. Don’t reach over the dog’s head; put your hand low, in front of his nose, but not touching it, and give him a chance to smell you. If he should decide to bite there won’t be any fingers to grab, and you can pull your hand to safety quickly.

Every dog is different, and a dog that seems friendly may have things in his background that renders him fearful of strangers. Always ask the owner if you can pet a dog before reaching out to it. If there is no owner in sight, don’t try to touch the dog, because you don’t know how he may react. If the owner has said it’s okay and you approach the dog sensibly, it’s likely that you’ll make a new friend in short order.