Every day people are bitten by strange dogs they’ve just met. In fact, according to Brauns Law, there are over 4.5 million dog bite cases every year. While the dog may have aggression issues in some cases, often it’s the result of not taking the proper precautions. Below are six etiquette rules to remember for when you’re meeting a new dog.

Ask Permission to Pet

Always ask the owner for permission before approaching a new dog. If the owner says no, accept it and keep walking. The dog might be nervous or might be a service animal in training. The owner always knows best, so respect their wishes.

Approach Slowly

If the owner says yes, approach the dog slowly and avoid sneaking up on the dog. Rushing at the dog can be frightening and put the dog on the defensive. Many dog bites occur not because the dog was an aggressive dog, but because the dog was frightened. If a dog sees a stranger rushing at him or her, the dog is likely to feel the need to act defensively.

Do the Sniff Test

Most of a dog’s feelings come from what they smell, hear or see. When you approach a new dog, they can already see and hear you. Allow them to sniff your hand without pushing it in the dog’s face. Slowly move your hand towards the dog with your palm down and level with the dog’s mouth so the dog can smell or lick your hand. If the dog licks your hand, that’s a good sign.

Pet with Caution

If you’re allowed to pet the dog and have passed the sniff test, pet the dog lightly under the chin. Avoid petting the dog on the top of the head or any place where the dog can’t see your hand. Even if the dog seems to enjoy your touch, don’t hug the dog or try to rush anything. If the dog tries to jump on you, then you can be a little more enthusiastic. Once again, make sure you respect the owner’s wishes. If they are trying to train the dog not to jump on people, you shouldn’t encourage it.

Avoid Eye Contact

If the dog still seems a little nervous, do not make direct eye contact with it. This often makes a dog feel threatened. They may take this as a sign of aggression on your part and act accordingly.

Don’t Push It

If this is your first time with the dog, don’t overextend your welcome. Give the dog a gentle touch and let it go at that. If they come back for more, you can go from there. You should always follow the lead of the dog and its owner.

It’s important to make your first meeting with a new dog a pleasant experience for you and the dog. It really is true that the first impression is often the only impression, particularly with a strange dog.

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