Approaching a dog you don't know well can be a bit unnerving. After all, you don't know in advance if he'll wag his tail or try to chew your fingers off. Whether you're trying to ease the tension or want to befriend the dog, caution is key. Moving slowly and taking your time when approaching a dog will ensure that you keep all your fingers and that the dog doesn't have a heart attack in the process.
Always approach dogs from the front. Come around from the back and you'll surprise the dog. You don't know what a startled dog might do -- some might cower, while others might bite. Approaching from the front will also allow you to understand how the dog feels about your presence. Snarling, growling or barking might be a "stay away" signal that you should obey.
You might be able to touch your own sleeping dog to wake him up gently, but never try this with a dog you don't know that well. Instead, approach any sleeping -- or distracted -- dogs carefully. Start from a distance by speaking, calling the dog's name if you know it or making some kind of loud sound to wake him up. Give the dog a few seconds to figure out who you are -- if he knows you -- or to decide you're not a threat before you move towards him.
Your own body language says a lot about your intentions, and dogs will pick up on that to decide whether to attack, be friendly or ignore you. Never lock eyes with a dog you don't know. This could be considered a threat or a challenge for authority. If you happen to meet a dog ready to take on the challenge, you're in for a world of trouble. Instead, lower your eyes before you approach the dog. It's OK to look at him in the eyes, but move your gaze on and off him, so it doesn't look menacing. Keep your arms down, rather than waving them around, which could also be considered a threat.
While it can be unnerving to let a strange dog sniff you, that's exactly what you need to do so he becomes comfortable. Don't reach out to pet him on the head when you first approach him. Instead, move your hand forward slowly and let him sniff it. Make sure your hand stays low, so the back of your hand reaches from under his chin and it's not coming above his head, where it could be considered a sign of aggression. If you have other pets at home, be ready for a long sniffing session. A strange dog will want to check out all the different smells.
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