By Wednesday, April 27, 2022 2 No tags Permalink

is something I have no doubt you’ve heard of, seen or even tried with a strange dog. You know about the sniff test – extending your hand out (either palms up or down) as a way of introducing yourself…

It’s probably happened to you on occasion when you’ve taken your dog for a walk. As you can imagine, I watch this happen dozens of times a day when Jaxson comes to work…

As I read various articles searching for answers as to why humans opt to do this – the clear consistent explanation doesn’t have much to do with animal behavior. #doesthatsurpriseyou

It seems to be based on our human culture. We extend a hand to someone we just met as a sign of friendship – so we’ve adopted that same behavior when meeting a dog.


doesn’t seem to work well with my pups, and since I spend a great deal of time around other therapy dog teams, I’ve observed it’s not that popular with the others either.

I’ve noticed that Jax may approach the person when I’ve given him the command – 

go visit

That will generally occur after the stranger has asked me –

Can I pet your dog?

Keep in mind, Jaxson is super smart – but he cannot translate the conversation exchange, so as he moves inward, the person leans over – thrusts either an open palm or fist in his snout and he backs away…

Photo compliments of People Magazine

When you reach out towards a dog, you are using body pressure AT them, giving them no time to assess whether you are safe or whether they require further investigation to pick up your information. You are forcing an interaction of a relationship that hasn’t had time to develop.



seem to saturate the internet with so called subject matter expert advice on the proper etiquette when greeting a strange dog.

For those who suggest you let your dog do the sniff test, the popular/common defending reasons are –  

  • the correlation of how we shake hands when we are introduced to another person
  • dogs smell hands because it’s a natural part of their world
  • It’s an awesome gesture of friendship

Then there are those who feel differently. If you put yourself on the receiving end #thinklikeadog, you’re experiencing – 

  • a stranger bending over you shoving a body part towards your face with no reward #thinktreat
Poster courtesy of Clicker Canines

Dog noses are superior to ours – they don’t need your hand to catch your scent. 

Most dogs you meet are on a leash. This limits where they can escape go if they don’t want to meet you. Should that occur, and the dog is uncomfortable – he will either – shut down, shy away, growl or snap. Why put yourself in that position? #justasking


I think we as pet parents owe it to our dogs to speak for them. I’ve started a new dialog in the hospital that has been received well and I feel like I am educating others.

It goes like this –

May I pet your dog?

Me –

Sure you can, but please don’t put your hand in his face, if you just stand there, Jax will come to you!

This new approach opens up great discussion – and just about every time, no one can REALLY tell me why they extended their hand in the first place…

If you are meeting a dog for the first time, might I suggest you –

  • ask the owner if you can interact with the dog – sometimes that’s not what the human wants
  • stand up straight, relaxed and allow the dog to come to you – this way you’re not towering over him
  • if the dog wants to meet you – he will come on his own and sniff you – friendly dogs usually do!
  • when the tails starts to wag, he’s giving you permission to engage, pet the back  – never the head – and wait for a reaction – If there’s a love connection, then repeat
  • meet them where they don’t feel threaten – if you can – after you’ve been sniffed, for the initial greeting, get low…#howeverlowyoucango

I do this all the time when meeting a new therapy dog. I talk to the handler and allow the dog to study ME before I get chummy with them.

Works like a charm – every time 🙂

How do you greet strange dogs?

The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak out for themselves❤️

  • Monika @ Tails Around the Ranch
    April 28, 2022

    Brilliant! I’m going to mirror that same approach on our next hospital visit. Thanks for shedding a light on this behavior.

  • Pennye Hallam
    April 28, 2022

    These are my sentiments exactly. My new pup is very friendly now but doesn’t like people sticking their hand in or on his face. Anywhere else is great. I don’t blame him. I’m going to step back and initiate your recommendations. Thanks ( love the “down low” picture. More memories ❤️.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.