It’s OK - He’s Friendly - A Lesson in Dog Body Language

AKC GoodDog Helpline Trainer Breanne Long advises to not always believe owners who assure you their dog is friendly. Pay attention to what their dog’s body language is telling you!

“It’s OK – He’s Friendly!” This has been said to me many times while walking my dogs in my neighborhood. It's usually said as a large dog, dragging its owner, comes rushing up to my dogs.

The oncoming dog is laser-focused on my dogs, approaching on a straight path, and its tail is alert. Unfortunately, that statement has never made me feel better about the situation because that dog’s body language is telling me he has anything but friendly intentions toward my dogs!

Many people don't understand dog body language. They think their dog is rushing up to happily greet new friends, but that may not actually be what your dog is thinking.

petting shiba inu

Watch dogs at a dog park and observe their body language as they approach each other. When dogs approach each other in a friendly manner they take a curved path; they do not approach straight on. In dog-world, direct eye contact is rude and can be seen as a challenge; friendly dogs approach without directly staring at each other.

Friendly dogs approaching each other are often described as wiggly because they wag their tails, curve their bodies, and don't maintain eye contact. A dog approaching in this manner is likely not a threat to you or your dog. If you're comfortable with it, allow your dog to greet such a dog. But as with any interaction with a new dog, watch carefully and be ready to walk away if either dog goes still or gives a hard stare as these can be signs of trouble.

If you are approached by a dog that is clearly not friendly, don't hesitate to tell the owner you'd rather it not "say hello" to your dog. You don't have to give any reason but if you feel a need to justify yourself give the excuse of your dog recovering from surgery or illness, is not friendly himself, or is in training. If this isn't enough to dissuade the other dog owner, you can also (if it is safe to do so) step between your dog and the approaching dog. Coupled with your explanation, this will often convince the approaching dog owner that your dog needs some space.

Next time you are on the receiving end of "it's okay, he's friendly!" watch the approaching dog carefully to determine whether or not he seems to really have good intentions.

AKC Good Citizen Test No. 1 is Accepting a Friendly Stranger. See more information in the video below: 

To ask training questions about your individual dog, enroll in the AKC GoodDog! Helpline, a seven-day-a-week telephone support service staffed by dog trainers:


What's he thinking?

Dogs exhibit all sorts of bewildering, funny, and sometimes worrisome, quirky behaviors. Ever wonder what he's thinking and where the behaviors come from? Download this e-book to find out.