The main thing to keep in mind when meeting a new dog is that they are not humans and therefore we must be mindful of what our body language means to them. For example, eye contact in the dog world is an extremely aggressive thing to do. Try a staring contest with a dog and you could very well end up with a bite to the face. So try your best to not hold eye contact with a dog for more than a few seconds. Another example is with our actual bodies. Facing a dog with our chests directly pointing at them is also a sign of aggression in the dog world. So if you are meeting a dog that doesn’t know you and/or seems somewhat fearful, turn your body a little so you are at an angle. This will tell them you mean no harm.
So when you meet a dog, your first instinct is most likely to put your hand on their head/neck to pet them as a greeting. While some dogs are perfectly fine with this and your own dog may tolerate it, this is scary for most dogs. The best way to pet a dog is to first let them smell your hand that is in a fist, and then open your hand up to pet their chin and upper neck. Once a dog gets to know you and understands that no fights are necessary, you can usually pet wherever you want. My own dog, Monty, will not only let me pet him anywhere, but will also engage in some serious staring contests with me sometimes. He knows me all too well and understands that I would never harm him and therefore allows these behaviors.
I always recommend asking the owner ahead of time if it’s okay to pet their dog. Owners will know better than anyone else if their dog is not in the mood for strangers or has a fear of certain kinds of people.
Many children that are bit by dogs most likely are doing the things that I recommend you not do. They like to run up to a strange dog, put their arms around their necks (thus touching the back of the neck) and will look the dog straight in the face in hopes of the “kiss”. I admit, when I was about 7 I did this myself with a maltese and still have the scar on my lip to show for it. PLEASE teach your children the proper way to pet a dog. Also teach them to ALWAYS ask the owner if it’s okay first and to NEVER pet a dog that is unattended.