A lot of dog owners think that their dog should like — and want to greet — every dog it meets when out on a walk. In reality, many dogs don’t really want to meet (or shouldn’t meet other dogs). Think of it this way: do you want to shake hands with every person you come across? Probably not — and neither do most dogs want to sniff up another dog.
My advice is that dogs generally shouldn’t be meeting on lead.
What are the risks of on lead greetings?
You don’t know if the other dog is friendly and the owner of the other dog may not have the chance to say anything to you if you allow your dog to approach too quickly. Sometimes, a dog can be friendly most of the time, but finds the occasional dog offensive. You don’t want your dog to experience a negative reaction from the stranger dog.
Bottom line: if you don’t know the dog and the owner really well, keep on walking — no dog-to-dog greetings. It’s just too risky.
On-lead greetings are clumsy
Dogs prefer to greet other dogs in a very specific manner. They like to approach from the side/in curves, head down a bit, and like to sniff the rear end of the other dog. When both dogs greet in this appropriate manner, leads can quickly get tangled as you’re trying to keep up with the dogs. If leads go tight, doggie tempers can flare because of the unexpected restriction of movement. Also, if there is going to be a dog discussion, it’s not a great idea for the dogs to become entangled in their leads.
Leads often prevent the natural greeting behaviour and without the proper ritual, the dogs can get the wrong impression of each other. Dogs often find a direct approach from the front a social offense and may react with a stiffened posture. This in turn signals possible unfriendliness, and the result could be an unfriendly discussion.
The restriction of movement that the lead imposes is enough to make dogs uncomfortable around other dogs. It often translates into ‘reactivity’ such as barking and lunging at the other dog.
Off-lead, many dogs are happy and quite appropriate with unknown dogs.
Reinforces bad habits
Even if both dogs are friendly and would love saying hello to one another, they’re likely so excited that they forget their lead manners. You might think “Oh, what’s the harm in a little pulling when they’re visiting friends?” Dogs do what works for them and if pulling on lead gets them to meet their doggie friends, they will do more of the pulling – the unwanted (and inappropriate) behaviour is being reinforced. Reinforced behaviours get stronger, better, and occur more often — do you really want your dog to get better at pulling? Pulling also creates the problematic tight leads mentioned earlier.
If you absolutely must meet the other dog, make at least sure that your dog is either sitting calmly before meeting or walking towards the other dog on a loose lead.
Creates an expectation
If your dog gets to meet every other dog he encounters when out on a walk, your dog comes to expect that he will be able to say hello to every dog he sees. So on the occasions you want your dog to walk past another dog without greeting, your dog may react with frustration or more pulling on lead.
Better alternatives to lead greetings
If you have a dog who loves to play with other dogs, you can get your dog the socialisation and exercise in other safer ways rather than greeting on lead.
- Fenced yards are the best places to let dogs play with compatible, social dogs you know. Of course, supervise their play and end it when the dogs get over-excited or tired. A dog-friendly park such as Barge Park can be an alternative as long as it’s not too busy, you have good control, and a very solid recall.
- Parallel walking. If you have a friend with a dog, go for a nice long walk together with your dogs on lead. Parallel walking keeps the dogs busy walking, but they’re able to have some social time as well.
As for the dog park - It’s ok to visit the dog park with your dog’s bestie when it’s empty or not too busy. However, taking your dog to the dog park when it’s crowded and you don’t know all the dogs and their owners, you are taking a potential risk. While most dogs as the park may be social, there’s a chance your dog may encounter inappropriate, overly enthusiastic, rude, bullying, or even aggressive dogs.