I often get asked by clients whether they should allow their dog to greet other dogs while either is on a lead. I ALWAYS say “No!” This is sometimes met with surprise but I have good reasons – and it’s not because I’m a kill-joy control freak! (Well, not totally…) So, here they are:

 

1   Leads restrict movement

When a dog is on a lead they can’t move freely. They feel confined and sometimes uncomfortable. They can’t control how far away they are from another, incoming dog. Even friendly dogs can become anxious due to this restriction. Most dogs don’t like other dogs rushing into their space and being able to do nothing about it. The leashed dog’s only option is to try to drive the incoming ‘greeter’ away by barking, growling, snapping or lunging. Also, two dogs on lead who greet and tangle are an explosion waiting to happen! Unless BOTH handlers are very good at the ‘circle dance’ keeping leads loose and free, things can get messy real quick!

 

2   Leads change body language

pulling on leadWhen your dog pulls towards another dog while restrained on a lead, the tension in the lead changes the way your dog appears: his weight goes forward over his toes, his legs stiffen and he looks far more intense. His arousal will also go up and he is no longer thinking calm pro-social thoughts. (Police and military dogs are hyped up before being sent for a chase by…pulling the dog back and up on the lead!). This change in posture and attitude can lead to misunderstandings on the receiving dog’s part, and who can blame them? How would you feel if an over excited lunatic appeared to be targeting you?

 

3   Leads to unrealistic expectations

If you let your friendly puppy go up to every dog he sees while walking on a lead, he will learn that this is the norm and will expect to go up to every dog he sees. As he gets older that may not be always appropriate. Believe me, there WILL be times when he can’t greet another dog. Unfortunately, unmet expectations lead to frustration. Frustrated dogs pull, lunge, bark or snarl due to not being able to reach their target. This morphs into on-lead aggression VERY easily.  Far easier to teach a pup during those socialisation adventures that he can’t always have everything he wants.

 

4   Other dogs are on lead for a reason

People do not walk their dogs on lead because they are miserable control freaks (or to p!ss other people off!), they do it because they have to. It might be because:

  • Their dog is…
    • in training
    • injured or ill
    • old, deaf, blind or unsteady
    • shy/frightened
    • doesn’t have a good recall
    • lacks manners and gets themselves into trouble
  • They are in an on-lead area (and they choose to walk there BECAUSE they want to avoid having to deal with other dogs!)

Whatever their reason (which you, of course, do not know), you are not helping their day by allowing your dog to go up and interfere with their onlead dog; it’s far kinder to respect their choice and keep your dog out of the picture for them.

 

The alternative to on-lead greetings

So, if you are no longer going to let your dog greet other dogs when a lead is in the picture, what are you going to do instead?

My favourite way of dealing with this is to just not allow it from the start. The dogs learn very quickly that if there is a lead on anybody, no interactions will be happening. Obviously, if you’ve already allowed an expectation to develop and you’d now like to change it, some work will be needed.

In brief here is what I do:

  • Walk in places where you can see other dogs approaching from a decent distance (on lead so both dogs are under control).
  • As soon as your dog notices another dog, move off the path with your dog.
  • Ask him to sit, with your body between him and the passing dog.
  • Rapid feed high value treats while the dog is passing.
  • If your dog tries to get to the other dog, use your lead and body to prevent access.
  • Continue to fast feed treats until the passer-by has moved away.

 

puppy sitting with focused attention

 

Be aware that this is not a ‘quick-fix’.

It will take time and consistency to change your dog’s expectations. With repeated practice your dog will start to realise that other dogs approaching while he is on a lead means lots of great treats for him! As he gets to understand this you can gradually reduce the number of treats you are feeding. Eventually you won’t need to stop at all, just have your dog look at you and trot calmly passed the other dog.

If your dog is off lead and you see someone with an onlead dog approaching, call your dog, put him on lead and go through the process above. They may well be very grateful for your kindness and consideration. 🙂

 

I have no problem with dogs greeting each other when both dogs are off lead, free to move naturally and control the interaction for themselves. I’m not all about “I need to be the only living thing my dog interacts with!” or any such crap as that. I know that some trainers will say that as a handler, your dog should only have eyes for you; but really? How realistic is that? Not very!

No, my dislike of on-lead greeting is because I see so many dogs that have been turned into lunging, barking, hysterical messes due to either being repeatedly forced into interactions they dislike and can’t avoid, or due to frustration from being led to believe that the world is their oyster – and then having that belief disabused.

On lead reactivity is a very, very common problem and it is so easy to avoid with a bit of thought and training. If you would like to know more about how I teach dogs to be confident, well behaved members of the family, please contact me.

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Happy training!

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