Any time you take your dog outdoors there is a very good chance you will have the opportunity to meet other dogs. While many people look forward to these opportunities, others are less than enthusiastic and may even walk during odd hours just to decrease likelihood of dog-dog interactions.
On-leash greetings can be tricky and stressful for both dogs and owners. Many dogs that are comfortable greeting off-leash appear possessed by the spirit of Cujo when on-leash – lunging, barking and generally making a spectacle of themselves, much to their persons confusion and dismay.
The most common reason for this reaction by our dogs is that the leash prohibits free movement and impedes communication. An anxious dog can feel helpless to flee if need be. For the social butterfly of a dog, the leash becomes a barrier that results in frustration. And, for all dogs using body language as their primary form of communication, a tight leash alters body posture resulting in the conveyance of unintended messages.
To make on-leash greetings more comfortable and successful:
Ask first: Never assume that another dog is friendly or that another person wants a greeting to take place. Get permission before allowing dogs to meet.
Approach in an arc: When dogs approach each other, they walk toward one another on a curved path instead of moving forward in a straight line like humans. Approaching in an arc is a canine way of saying “hello, I mean no harm”. Facilitating this maneuver will allow for a more natural canine greeting that can help relax both your dog and the approaching dog.
Observe both dogs: As you approach carefully monitor each dog’s behavior. If there are signs of fear or aggression it is probably best to simply pass by in a wide arc.
Keep a loose leash: This will allow your dog to communicate using proper canine body language. Dogs are also far less likely to feel trapped and unable to flee if need be. Make sure leashes do not get tightly tangled.
Stay calm and relaxed: Dogs are masters at reading body language. If you become stiff and nervous when a dog approaches, your dog is likely to pick-up on it. Always try to act relaxed even if you aren’t. Keep your body fluid and remember to breathe. Casual, calm happy talk can also keep tension from building.
Call your dog away: When you’re ready to end an interaction, cheerfully call your dog away. Resist the urge to pull your dog away as this sudden tension can result in miscommunication and stress for both dogs. Stay calm and entice your dog away with a happy voice, squeaky or a little treat.
Cynthia Edgerly, owner of Bingo! Dog Training in Watsonville, CA, is a Professional Dog Trainer & Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.