"Put your hand out so they can sniff." We teach children from very young ages this method of meeting a new dog. It’s no wonder children get bitten more than any other segment of our population.
Just imagine meeting a person for the first time. Instead of reaching out to shake your hand, they raise their hand up four inches from your face and hold it there. After a brief time of holding their hand in front of your face, the person may then reach over your head and put their hand on the top of your head. Do you feel the tension and confusion created just envisioning someone greeting you that way? It’s the same for dogs; especially timid, previously abused, and not super socialized dogs. Frequently the result is the canine equivalent of "Back off you're being really weird, invasive and forward. I don’t even know you and I'm growling or snapping." At this point the dog is reprimanded and accused of being a bad dog, when in fact, it was the human’s inappropriate behavior that caused the whole situation.
When meeting a new dog it is best to just keep your hands to yourself. Focus on talking with the owner for a little bit and let the dog sniff you. Allow the dog time to comfortably come to you and decide whether it wants to be touched. A dog that wants to be petted by a new person will eagerly move toward a welcoming hand. When reaching to the pet, do so with a flat hand palm up and reach under the chin or to the side of the neck or shoulder. Reaching over top of a dog’s head can be threatening and even the nicest dogs can take offense to a hand on top of their head.
When meeting a new dog, consider their comfort and personal space requirements. The majority of dogs love to get the attention of new people and enjoy being touched and fawned over. Not all dogs want to be touched by people they don’t know and those dogs should be respected for that and not forced into situations that they are not comfortable. When meeting a new dog, let the dog decide if it wants to be touched or simply say hi with a sniff or two and then move away. By accepting dogs as they are and allowing them to decide when and if they want to be touched, both the dogs and the humans they meet will be safer and enjoy more quality time together.