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Dear Homeward Bound: My neighbors have a nervous dog

Dear Homeward Bound,  
Help! I have new neighbors and they have a dog that seems really nervous around us. I’m worried because our old neighbors had a super-friendly dog that was friendly with my 6-year-old son and would let him hug and kiss him all the time and I don’t know what this dog might do if my son gets too close to him. 
Curious (and Worried!)
 
Dear Curious (and Worried!)
Lots of children, and many adults, don’t know how to properly say hello to dogs and thus put themselves at risk. Unlike humans, dogs do not naturally greet each other straight on. In fact, looking a dog in the eye and sticking your hand out at them (as you might to person whose hand you wanted to shake upon meeting) is very threatening to a dog. It is a challenge to the dog.
Dogs naturally greet each other in a sidelong fashion with eyes largely averted or flicking back and forth but don’t keep prolonged eye contact. The best way to meet a new dog to show them that you are not a threat is to turn slightly sideways and stretch your hand out beneath the dog’s muzzle and let them make the first contact by sniffing you. Speaking in a soft, light voice as you do so is also appropriate. 
A dog that wants to get to know you will make contact with your hand and will initiate more touching by nudging you with his or her muzzle and maybe even body. A dog that is afraid or does not want to get to know you will not make the initial contact. He or she may look away (telling you “I’m afraid!) or even stare (telling you “I don’t like you; get away!”) 
You and your son could maybe practice saying hello with a stuffed animal dog and then you could ask your neighbor if they would mind putting their dog on a leash while you come over to say hello. If you say hello in proper dog style, you will accomplish three things:  One, your son will stay safe; two, you will find out if the dog is interested in getting to know you better over time; and three, you will have shown the dog that new people can be nice! 
Good luck. 
Jessica Danyow
Homeward Bound

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