Don’t stick your hand out (and other dog greeting myths)

For most people, the sight of a wagging tail and a furry face is a welcome sight. You may even have the habit of reaching out to pet dogs before checking with the owner.

Depending on the dog, attention can be more stimulating than they want, but with no other way to communicate, sometimes the dog will bite.

Here are three of the most common myths about interactions with dogs (and how you can avoid getting bit).

Don’t stick your hand out to sniff

Parents have been teaching children to stick their hands out so a dog can sniff them for a long time. The lesson becomes a habit that many adults carry with them.

The truth is dogs can smell everything about you from several feet away, and putting your hand in their face can feel offensive for dogs who value their personal space. Instead of putting your hand out to sniff, keep your arms at your sides. If the dog continues to look relaxed as it approaches you, reach out to pet them on their back or shoulder where they can see what you are doing.

Wagging isn’t always good

Whether the tail is little or long, you may associate a wagging tail with a happy puppy.

While dogs will wag when they are happy, a wag can mean many things depending on the dog’s body language. For example, a dog with a stiff body but a wagging tail is probably nervous or stressed.

Owners don’t always know when their dog is stressed

Understanding a dog’s stress signals is as complex as learning those of your human counterparts.

Although you should always ask an owner before engaging with their dog, make sure you watch the dog for signs that it is stressed. Sometimes, owners are embarrassed or shy about telling others that their dog is stressed or not feeling social. Watch for stress signals like a stiff body or pinned ears; if you see these signals, back up and give the dog space.

Watching for stress signals is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent a dog bite. If you are in doubt, make sure the dog has enough space to feel comfortable.

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