Greeting other dogs when on the lead: good or bad idea?

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Blog post about on-lead greetings, by Laure-Anne Visele (MSc, dog behaviourist), on 3 June 2020

I got this really cute picture from a puppy student of mine, showing how well socialisation to other pups was going with her adorable girl. 

My initial instinct as a behaviourist

I directly checked the photo for signs of tension between the dogs. I see on-lead greetings go wrong so often that this has become a reflex. I am now going to tell you why dog trainers tend to not be the greatest fans of on-leash greetings. 

  1. Your dog can get into the habit of unceremoniously running up to every on-leash with often stressful consequences if that dog was on the lead because of aggression, being on heat, a health problem, being in training, etc.  
  2. Your dog is likely to sometimes be allowed to greet other dogs and sometimes not. In time, this can give rise to “frustrated greeting” where your dog ‘greets’ every dog he passes with growling and lunging in anticipated frustration. 
  3. Your dog is limited in his movement when on the lead. This can give rise to misunderstandings -> tension -> conflict between the dogs. 
  4. You know about fight or flight, I am sure. Whilst on the lead, the flight option is no longer available to your dog. If your dog is feeling even a little bit tense about the situation, only one solution is left: fight.  

What can I do to keep my dog socialised then?

For my dog, we have a simple rule: greeting is for off the lead. On the lead, you ignore other dogs just like you would a passerby on the street or a cow in a field.

Be sure to also make the recall your top training priority so that you can let your dog interact with other dogs off the lead on a daily basis (where that is allowed and where that is safe to do).  

If, for some reason, off-lead interactions are not possible and if your dog’s on-lead greetings are a big part of yours and your dog’s life, then: 

  • Only allow your dog to do it when you give explicit permission. No permission? Just walk on. 
  • Constantly check both dogs’ body language. Anything less than totally relaxed and open and you move on. 
  • Always ask the owner of the other on-leash dog if it’s OK before you let your dog approach. 

So don’t let this grumpy, overcautious dog behaviourist rain on your parade but do be sensible if you’re going to go for on-lead greetings! 

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