I have a rule at my classes: on-leash greetings between dogs are not allowed. I learned this rule at St. Hubert’s Dog Training School, and have found it to be pretty common among dog trainers. Owners, however, often find it surprising.
There are three big reasons why you shouldn’t let your dog greet other dogs on-leash:
- Leashes can lead to dysfunctional greetings.
- Dogs that are permitted to greet on-leash learn to expect it, and when they can’t greet they get frustrated.
- When your dog is on-leash, you want her focus to be on you.
Watch two dog-friendly dogs greet off-leash. Broadly speaking, they tend to sniff faces and fannies, while circling or at least approaching each other from oblique angles. The mutual sniffs are important: especially or the first time but often for subsequent meetings too. I think of good greetings are relaxed and circular.
Watch two dogs greet on-leash. It couldn’t look more different! The leashes make circling and sniffing difficult, if not impossible. Oftentimes the people involved keep the leashes tight, further restricting movement and leading to more straight-in approaches and raising the anxiety level. I think of on-leash greetings as tense and linear.
When dogs are allowed to greet others while on-leash, they learn to expect it. When they can’t, they tend to become frustrated. On-leash aggression is frustration. How many times have you heard (or thought) “He’s not aggressive! He just wants to say hi!”? To make matters worse, what starts out as a display of frustration is often misinterpreted by the other dog as an aggressive display, leading to a snowball effect. Avoid the greetings and avoid the association.
But the best reason to avoid on-leash greetings is you. Want your dog to walk nicely on leash? You want her attention. Want to avoid on-leash aggression? Get her attention. The fastest and most reliable way to accomplish this is to make being on-leash about you and not about other dogs.
If you want to give your dog an opportunity to socialize with other dogs, arrange off-leash playtime with trustworthy dogs (that have trustworthy owners). In the meantime, make on-leash time fun and bonding time between the two of you.
Interested in more information about leash aggression? I have a series of posts over here. You may also want to subscribe to my newsletter using the form on the right.
Photo Credit: Tobyotter