On Leash Greetings – A recipe for disaster?

A friend and dog lover* recently asked me if I thought dogs should be allowed to meet and socialize with other dogs on walks.

I immediately responded with a “NO!” but let me explain….

Although I realize guardians have good intentions and were told that socialization is important for all dogs to maintain sociability into adulthood, for most dogs the walk is NOT the place for socialization. It can create a high level of frustration and put a lot of social pressure and stress on a dog – especially a leash dog that is trapped in the interaction!

I don’t believe most dogs are interested in meeting EVERY dog in our neighborhood any more than I am interested in engaging in conversation with every human I encounter on our walks.

Let’s look at it from a human perspective. Let’s say you are out on a walk. One neighbor sees you and says “hi” – ok pretty normal interaction. Now let’s say the next neighbor loves people so runs enthusiastically at you and gives you a big hug. Odd maybe but you move on. Now the next neighbor you sees yells at you for walking on his sidewalk near his grass. You apologize and keep on your way. Now you see another neighbor. What are you thinking? Are you a bit stressed? Will this neighbor be friendly and say hi, a bit much and hug you or yell at you? Unsure you watch careful focusing on the person’s body language and next move. You pay little attention to your walking partner if you have one and instead focus on the walks, the site of other dogs and the environment.

Meeting dogs on leash can be a recipe for disaster and “reactivity” , even for the most social dog, barking and lunging at the very sight of another dog, due to frustration from repeated leashed greetings in the past or as a puppy!

The scenario might look something like this…the young, social pup sees another dog, gets aroused, barks or pulls and then gets to meet and/or play with the dog on leash. So the next time, he sees a dog, the same scenario repeats but this time the owner, in their frustration, pulls on the leash limiting communication and causing the dog to become more aroused and frustrated so your walk turns into one big “oh my gosh..there is another dog..pull, bark, arousal/excitement”.

Many dog owners do not know how to read a dog’s body language. Different breeds can also have different greeting styles and play styles and there are some dogs that also have poor greeting skills. You may have met one of these dogs on your travels. Dogs with poor greeting skills can be as inappropriate to dogs as the neighbor that ran up to you to give you that hug as you walked by even though you don’t know each other well! Some exuberant dogs can be that inappropriate and invasive to our dogs and their space. Dogs communicate via body language and therefore their communication is restricted by the leash and there is more chance of a fight while on leash due to that restriction of their communication. Fearful/Shy and dogs not social with other dogs can really struggle with leash reactivity when they are confronted with a situation that they cannot escape.

Walks should also be like a dance with your dog – a special time you share together. I allow my dogs to sniff, use their nose and get the scoop in the neighborhood through the use of their senses but I also like my dogs to have focus on the person at the other end of the leash – ME – during our walks. Meeting dogs can create a dog that is either frustrated as discussed above or if they LOVE other dogs then your dog may pull and become aroused at every dog he sees.

Dogs see in pictures and context. Do you want your picture/view of the outside world to be one where he must be watchful for other dogs or that other dogs are the best part of walks if he is very social and that you don’t matter?

Walks are an important part of my dogs’ exercise program to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. It’s also a special time where I unplug from phone/work and we enjoy an activity together. In today’s busy world, that’s good therapy for both of us. We connect with nature, enjoy the sun, sometimes stopping along the way to sit down, enjoy a roll in the grass (the dogs not me:-) and just spend quality time together.

Leash Reactivity is one of the most common behavior problems in dogs today. As a professional, my recommendation is to teach focus on you on walks and create a “dance” , add in a bit of training like waits or sit at corners and splash in a few fun games too like “find it” or “go sniff” to make the walk an enjoyable, safe and relaxing experience for both you and your dog. If your dog does have leash reactivity, there is help! See below:

NEED HELP WITH LEASH REACTIVITY? Leash reactivity is a behavior that can be modified. It is best to seek the help of a professional, force free trainer to show you how to work with this behavior. You can email me at info@carolscaninetraining.com to set up a Leash Reactivity Consultation and be on your way to a more enjoyable walk today!

NOTE: Punishment/Correction can sometimes seem to suppresses the symptom/behavior without addressing the underlying cause of the problem. Temporarily suppression of behavior is not changed behavior. Also punishment/correction eventually can increase leash reactivity as now seeing another dog creates unpleasant things like verbal corrections and leash corrections. For the same reason, correction collars like prong collars can also increase the incidence and severity of leash reactivity as well as raise anxiety, arousal, frustration and fear.

 *Thanks “J” for the great question!

Carol Sumbry – CPDT -KA, Certified Behavior Consultant, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Certified Family Dog Mediator, Trauma Informed Approach Professional (Canine)    carolscaninetraining.com




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