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On Leash Greetings? To do, or not to do?

If you google on leash greetings dogs’ and you get a plethora of articles all telling you what most trainers have known for years, Don’t do it, Just Don’t.

There are the ‘7 reasons not to let your dog greet other dogs on leash’ 1. Most people can’t read body language, 2. It’s an unnatural way for dogs to meet, 3. No Escape, 4. Some dogs are over-excited greeters, 5. Some dogs have social anxieties, 6. Some dogs have play deficiencies, 7. On-Leash meetings are rarely on dog’s terms.

Then, there are articles that talk of horror stories of dogs in their 2nd fear period being traumatized by on leash greetings, some of these horror stories are told about highly trainer service dogs who were unable to escape an on leash attack.

Some articles recommend having ‘sidewalk strategies’ to avoid greetings like body blocking, changing sides of the road, getting the dog to walk on the opposite side, ANYTHING to AVOID THE DREADED ON LEASH ENCOUNTER.

Some espouse never letting your dog do any on leash greetings and talk of how on leash greeting can lead to leash aggression in normally stable dogs.

Most of these articles have man elements of truth to them. I have seen dogs that are leash aggressive but perfectly fine off leash with other dogs, dogs that have been traumatized by one incident of being ‘jumped’ while on leash, dogs who have become so unruly on leash they cannot be restrained in the presence of other dogs, and dogs who seem to be fine, only to explode once another dog is inside their personal space. All are risks of on leash greetings.

You would think with all the well documented risks associated with on leash greetings people would be aware of the dangers and avoid them. And yet, if you walk down the street with your well behaved, leashed dog, if there’s another dog on leash coming at you there is a high likelihood that at some point the two dogs are going to interact whether you want them to or not. Often this is the result of either the a MDIF (my dog is friendly!) type who’s owner is trailing at the back end of a lunging, uber-exuberant, poorly trained, goober dog, yelling ‘he’s friendly, he just wants to say hi’ or an oblivious owner who’s not paying attention to their own dog, let alone the other dog walking at them, and may even be on the phone with a flexi in hand. They don’t even know their dog is interacting with another dog!

Sometimes I have to wonder what is up with some people!? The answer is they are all human, and as such they have foibles and faults. Many are not educated (or care to be educated) in dog behavior and/or good dog manners. Some have tried, but due to the uber-exuberant dog, literally get dragged to see each and every dog that goes by, and some just don’t care, or don't realize the risks they take every time they allow their dogs to greet on leash.

What is a responsible dog owner to do?

First, teach your own dog to be calm when on leash around other dogs, and to recognize that when they are on leash, they are with you! BTW this isn’t a simple thing to do, it takes time, consistency and practice, but if you start early and teach your dog that every time a dog shows up a) they do NOT get to go greet the dog b) if they pay attention to you they get lots of good treats c) sometimes (and I mean only sometimes) they get explicitly given permission to great the dog after they’ve been calm for a bit first, your puppy will grow up to understand that greetings are not a given, and must be earned with calm behavior.

One of the first things I tell all my new puppy owner’s is we do NOT do greetings on leash. I make it a hard and fast rule for all puppies in Puppy K and Graduate Puppy, mostly because I know that most puppies that young and inexperienced just don’t have the impulse control necessary for an on leash greeting. We work on getting the dog to pay attention to us on leash and walk past other dogs. We work on basic commands like sit, down and stay, that build impulse control, and we get them used to waiting for permission to do something, rather that muscling their way to what they want.

In an article by Karen Pryor she articulates the dangers of allowing leash greetings prior to when the dog has adequate impulse control,

“Another thing that encourages wild greetings is permitting street play, where dogs are allowed to meet and play with other dogs when they are out on walks. Rapidly, dogs can learn to demand a visit with the other dogs they see while out on walks. This can also happen with people if a dog is allowed to pull toward a person and receive attention.

Dogs learn that if they make enough of a fuss to visit with other dogs or people, they might be rewarded with a meet and greet. The meetings can be even more problematic if the dog is large enough to pull or jerk the owner to the action. When that happens, the dog not only learn about the ability to use strength, but is also reinforced for doing so, which makes the behavior stronger (no pun intended) with each success.”

As we continue training and I see that individual dogs are maturing and beginning to possess the kind of impulse control necessary for calm, polite greetings, which typically happens in my upper level classes like Master Class, Canine Good Citizen and Rally, then they are given the 3 second rule. This is AFTER the dog has been asked to sit and be calm next to the handle for a period of time, and only AFTER the dog is given permission, the dogs may sniff noses for the count of 3 and are then they are separated to go their different directions. This is usually enough for the dog’s to satisfy their curiosity about the dog they are looking at, without having to go through an entire greeting process.

The greeting process that dogs do naturally is fairly involved and includes lots of circling and sniffing, which is quite difficult to accommodate in the middle of a sidewalk.

We practice this 3 second rule in the classes with dogs that are able to execute this level of impulse control around other dogs, and some dogs never get there, either for lack of training, practice or lack of innate ability.

So yes I do support a ‘No Leash Greetings’ policy for young dogs, but that’s not the whole story. The whole story is, with continued training, you can generally get your dog to the point where they can politely greet other calm, well trained dogs, while on leash, but even if your dog is capable of these types of greetings MANY other dogs are not. So when in doubt, just say NO THANKS, to on leash greetings.

For more information about upper level classes where your dog can learn to be around dogs without having to greet them, check out my class listings for Graduate Puppy, Wag it Games, Rally and Master Puppy.

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