Regularly, and again in the last few weeks, social media has been swamped with posts about why you should not allow your dog to meet other dogs while on leash. They usually show a powerful info-graphic and use compelling language.
I’m here to say that if you like letting your dog greet other dogs on-leash, you are not a bad person or a bad dog owner!
There are exceptions, but in general, the average friendly dog can learn to be safe and polite when greeting other dogs on leash.
Dogs with Social Issues
If you have a dog with reactivity or anxiety issues or one that has been in dog fights on-leash, this post is not meant for you. If you have that dog and want him to learn to greet other dogs on leash, please consult with a certified positive reinforcement trainer.
In the real world, sometimes dogs are not under control and will run up to you and your dog. I don’t want my dog to be scared by a dog approaching. I want my dog to think this is normal and to calmly say hi or look to me for guidance. Dogs who are never allowed to greet on-leash may not have good social skills to deal with these situations.
If you and your dog enjoy meeting other people and dogs on your walks, here is how to do it safely and politely!
If we are going to allow our dogs to greet each other on leash, we must teach our dogs to be polite when approaching other dogs and to disengage when we ask them to.
Step one is impulse control. Just because you see a dog, it doesn’t mean you get to sniff them. 90% of the time, don’t allow your dog to visit that other dog. Instead, use positive reinforcement (cookies, pats, and praise) to teach your dog to sit calmly while other dogs walk past.
Once you have a calm and attentive dog who can sit while other dogs pass, continue to the next step.
3 second rule
Imagine two people meeting and shaking hands. How long does a handshake last? 2-3 seconds is polite. We teach our dog the same rule. Say hello politely, then disengage after 2-3 seconds.
Choose a calm well behaved looking dog whose owner is looking at you in a friendly way. ALWAYS ask if it ok if the dogs meet. Not all dogs want to be visited.
Assuming the other owner says yes, give your dog verbal permission to “Go Say Hi” and wave them forward. In your head count 1-one-thousand, 2-one-thousand, 3-one-thousand. Call your dog back to you for a cookie and praise. You may need to use a little gentle leash pressure at first. If your dog can sit calmly again, you can give permission for him to “Go Say Hi” again. If you see any signs of stress from either dog, you should call your dog away sooner and not re-engage. You can, and should, practice this with dogs and people your dog already knows.
Here is a great page to review stress signals
What if, when you give permission to “Go Say Hi”, your dog charges in rudely? This can scare the other dog or owner, and it simply isn’t polite. For these dogs, first work some obedience near the other dogs. Is your dog relaxed enough to give you eye contact, practice sits and downs, shake a paw, or perform any other tricks he knows? If not, work on that first. If your dog still greets rudely, find a certified positive reinforcement trainer in your area to help you. I help a lot of clients teach their dogs to be polite greeters!
It is ok to be social
In general, humans are social creatures. In general, dogs are social creatures. As long as everyone is polite and happy about the situation, it is absolutely ok to socialize with other people and dogs if you and your dog enjoy doing so.
Note: Professional Dog Competitors
Professional dog trainers and active competitors live in a world where, in theory, all dogs are under control, people give each other space, and dogs are given plenty of other stimulation, exercise, and social opportunities. These dogs do not need to meet on leash, and it can be dangerous to allow amped up, high drive dogs to meet face to face in their training/competing environments. In general, please do not allow your dog to approach a dog at an agility, conformation, or flyball competition unless you know the other owner and dog well.