Safety Tips: How to Approach a Strange Dog Safely

Most of us at one time or another have come in contact with a strange dog, and remember the fear and apprehension we instantly felt, uncertain about the dog’s reaction or intentions when being encountered. Runners, children playing in front yards, even senior citizens on a daily walk, can all recall such incidents, which most of the time will not result in any real confrontation, but always have the potential to be a dangerous situation. As would be expected, most people naturally fear larger dog breeds; however, any strange dog, no matter what size or breed, which becomes startled or who is nervous or feels threatened by a stranger, may attack to defend itself. Below is some helpful information for encounters with strange dogs.



Avoidance can greatly reduce the risk. The strange dog is as frightened as you are, so if you come upon an unleashed dog you do not know or recognize, cross the street calmly and slowly and give the animal a wide berth so that he may pass by you without having to get too close to you.

If you try to avoid the dog and it comes towards you, remember the following:

  • DO NOT run – this will only cause the dog to chase you, and if he is frightened or aggressive, he will attack you when he catches you.
  • DO NOT use any sudden hand or arm gestures which may startle the dog.
  • ALWAYS use a calm, soft and gentle voice when speaking to the dog. Allow the animal to sniff you if it tries to do so, as this is his way of attempting to assess his own danger. Allowing the dog to check your scent will help keep him calm, and show that you are not there to harm him. Once the dog has finished sniffing you, slowly offer the back of your hand (NEVER the palm as the dog will interpret this gesture as aggression) to him and let him acknowledge it. Offering your hand for his further inspection will be viewed as a gesture of friendship, and he will respond with kindness if he accepts it.
  • DO NOT attempt to pet the dog, even if he seems friendly. By not petting him, you will help to avoid any sudden reaction from an animal who is still uncertain and unfamiliar with you.

Be cautious. Even dogs that are leashed may react negatively to a stranger and become aggressive. Owners of recently adopted dogs may not know their pet’s personality well enough yet to be able to completely control them, even on a leash. Watch the dog and its handler to see who is in control. Best rule is to always be careful when you approach someone with a dog.

Be alert. Naturally a dog on a leash is less likely to attack or bite you, as he is under the control of his handler. However, pay close attention to the dog’s posture. If the dog’s pose is rigid and his tail stiff, he is nervous and could become aggressive or attack at any moment. If the dog is relaxed and tail wagging, he is not afraid of you and for the moment feels comfortable enough around you to remain calm.

Be prepared. Because there is always the chance a strange dog may approach you, even if you remain calm and use the safety tips we’ve suggested, you should keep a small canister of mace spray in your pocket when you are walking, running or hiking, as this may help you break away from a dog which has attacked you. Only use the mace if absolutely needed.

Respect boundaries. It is never advisable to approach a yard or vehicle with a dog who does not know you, even if he makes no sound and “looks safe” enough to approach. A dog will defend his territory and his owner, whether it’s in a vehicle or a yard. Strangers who approach these areas need to understand this behavior and remember to keep their distance.

Leave no doubt. If you are carrying anything in your hands, slowly, gently set it down on the ground an arm’s length away from you and to the side, and allow the dog to sniff it. This will help reassure him it is not something that can hurt him, or that you might use to hurt him.


1. The majority of dog bites can be avoided, as dogs bite out of fear because they see you as a threat.

2. When approaching a dog, you should talk to him. Be careful not to let your own apprehension or anxiety affect your voice, as the dog is also listening for signs of your fear to help him decide if you are dangerous.

3. Signs of fear or aggression in dogs are:

  • snarling
  • bared teeth
  • a crouched stance
  • tail between his legs
  • ears pinned back rather than relaxed

4. Never make direct eye-to-eye contact with a dog, even one you are familiar with, as this is always perceived as threatening.

5. Never bark at a strange dog or approach him in a manner that backs him up against a wall, fence or into a confined area, as he will consider this a challenge and respond accordingly.

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