Why On-Leash Greetings with other dogs can be one of the single biggest mistake you make with your dog.

On leash greetings with people and dogs are the number one cause of behavioral issues on the walk.  They cause reactivity, condition excitement, and put dogs in immensely uncomfortable situations.  Lets break this down..

First and foremost the number one reason why we discourage on-leash greetings is due to the unnecessary social pressure that it creates for the dog.  In ideal social situations between dogs and dogs or dogs and people the dog is free to roam.  If they get stressed out due to another dog or person they can get up and walk away giving them space and reducing the social pressure.

Being on a leash is very restricting to most dogs.  They are stuck within a 4-6 foot radius of you at all times and are very aware of it.  This puts them in an innate position to tap into their fight or flight responses.  Since they do not have the ability to flee, we see them find alternative ways to deal with the stress.  You will see this in two major forms.  The first, and most common, is in leash reactivity.  Your dog will quickly begin to realize that barking, growling, or lunging makes other dogs or people go away before they have a chance to approach.  The other major sign that we see is your dog aggressing on the dog/person trying to make them go away.

Next, lets take the example of a dog that is not nervous or fearful, but overly playful and social as can be.  There are a few major reasons why we still discourage on-leash greetings, even with these dogs.

The big thing we want to avoid with a social dog by eliminating on-leash greetings is conditioned excitement.  Classical conditioning is a beautiful thing.. except when we are accidentally creating responses to things that we don’t want our dog responding to.  By allowing your dog to say hi to every dog or person that they see on the walk we are essentially telling them “Get excited every time you see a dog”.  This shows itself in pulling, barking, and other unwanted behaviors making it difficult for you to keep your dog under control.  Keep in mind that these issues can go from 0-60 very quickly and turn from playful energy to aggressive and dangerous behavior through continuous rehearsal.

The last reason is more of a precaution that we take than anything.  We don’t know the other dog!!  You could have the most social dog in the world but if your social dog says hi to another dog that doesn’t like it or isn’t quite as social as the owner may say, you could wind up with your dog being attacked.  And that in itself will cause a whole OTHER slew of unwanted side effects.  You may not be concerned about this for a number of reasons but the reality is that I see dogs every single day who have been attacked by another dog on the walk.  It just isn’t worth taking the chance.

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13 thoughts on “Why On-Leash Greetings with other dogs can be one of the single biggest mistake you make with your dog.

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  1. Reblogged this on MyPositiveDogTrainingBlog and commented:
    Dogs who are reactive on leash is probably the most common behavior issue I see in training. My own dog is sometimes not his usual friendly self when on leash.
    I read an article recently that stated in many countries dogs do not expect to interact with people and other dogs when on leash and so they are more likely to ignore them. In the US the mindset seems to be that every dog should be saying “hi” to every dog or person they encounter on leash. I do tell my students to keep on-leash greetings with other dogs to 3 seconds maximum IF they allow them at all.

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  2. You just described my dog to a tee! I knew he developed leash anxiety, so we try to just avoid other dogs, people, strollers, kids playing and so on. Sometimes we can sometimes we cannot, my question is how do we fix it? I’m afraid he’s going to bite someone or their dog.

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    1. There are plenty of fantastic obedience training programs that will help you with that stuff. I have lots of information on my Facebook page on stopping these behaviors.

      Go to Facebook.com/heightscanine

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  3. So what was the bottom line? Do we keep them on a leash? Or let them off.
    I have a Romanian rescue who growls at other dogs on the leash but is good with them off it. She is kept on the leash on the road but let off in the park. Is that ok?

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    1. Depends on the dog. ON THE WALK There should be no greetings. If your dog is growling at other dogs he should be corrected for it (see my Facebook page for info on stopping these behaviors Facebook.com/heightscanine or my blog on stopping unwanted behaviors). If you are doing off leash work at the park just make sure you can keep your dog under control.

      Save the dog interactions for structured play dates, but keep in mind SHE MAY NOT LIKE IT. there is no need to overly socialize a dog who isn’t into it.

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  4. I volunteer at a dog rescue and the trainer there said that the best exercise for a dog is a walk. In parks are not allowed off leash and if my dog were let off leash she would run off(beagle mix)

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  5. What would you say to a more structured greeting of strangers? We take our dogs to the farmer’s market almost every weekend, where many other people also bring their dogs. Most of the time people know to give other dogs space and not bother them, but every now and then people want to say hi to our dogs or us to theirs. I was taught that greetings on-leash like these can be okay provided that both parties are asked permission and the dogs are trained to treat greetings as almost a “trick.” So if I were the one initiating the greet, I’d first make mine sit and then ask, “Is your dog friendly? Can we say hi?” If they say yes, then I give him the command “you can say hi” and then let him greet the other dog for a short while (no more than 10-15 seconds) before continuing on our way. If either my dog or theirs pulls (even in a happy way), we don’t bother because there’s too much excitement.

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