Greetings on Walks

An older man kneeling down to put a small terrier dog.

Greeting People on Walks

Tired of your dog jumping on people they meet on walks? That’s completely understandable! It’s a normal behaviour for a dog, but often not a socially-accepted behaviour in our society. 

Let’s look at some strategies. 

Management

Before greeting a person, hold the handle of your leash but drop the slack on the ground. Where the leash meets the ground, stand with one foot on the leash. This prevents your dog from jumping up more than 1-2 inches off the ground. It will not change their behaviour, it will only prevent them from knocking down a small child, scaring a person who is afraid of dogs, scratching or bumping an elderly person who is frail or has thinning skin, and mucking up someone’s Sunday best. 

*Only do this if the leash is attached to a harness, not a collar! Tension on the collar can do damage to a dog’s neck. 

You can also scatter a small handful of food on the ground at your dog’s feet as a person is approaching so that they are busy sniffing and foraging and NOT jumping! 

Look at That

The “Look at That” game is a really fun one to toss in here, especially if you have a VERY enthusiastic greeter. If you have not yet played the “Look at That” game with your dog, check it out here.

Teaching them “four on the floor” for greetings:

You may choose to have a “decoy” person to practice with before trying this out in the real world. Ensure the decoy knows the rules of the game before starting and they are going to play by the rules! 

  • Step 1: The decoy person approaches and stops within 3-4 feet of your dog, still and silent. If your dog’s feet are on the ground, click/”yes!” and feed. Feed a stream of 5-6 small treats while they stand there and the decoy person remains still and silent. The decoy person walks away once the treat-stream is done. Repeat 5x.
  • Step 1.5: if your dog jumps on the decoy person, the decoy person must immediately turn their back and walk back to their starting point. The handler does nothing. Then, try again! This may take 5-6 repetitions before it “sinks in”. The consequence (the exciting person leaving) should be immediate and the next attempt at least 5-10 seconds later. 
  • Step 2: The decoy person approaches and stops within 1-2 feet of your dog, they make eye contact with your dog and say a calm “hello”, but no petting. If your dog’s feet are on the ground, click/”yes!” and feed. Feed a stream of 5-6 small treats while they stand there and the decoy person chats calmly to the dog. The decoy person walks away once the treat-stream is done. Repeat 5x.
  • Step 3: The decoy person approaches while making eye contact with your dog and saying “hi” in a more excited voice, stopping within 1-2 feet of your dog, but no petting. If your dog’s feet are on the ground, click/”yes!” and feed. Feed a stream of 5-6 small treats while they stand there. The decoy person walks away once the treat-stream is done. Repeat 5x.
  • Step 4: The decoy person approaches excitedly, stopping within 1-2 feet of your dog, but no petting. If your dog’s feet are on the ground, click/”yes!” and feed. Feed a stream of 5-6 small treats while they stand there. The decoy person walks away once the treat-stream is done. Repeat 5x.
  • Step 5: The decoy person approaches excitedly, stopping within 1-2 feet of your dog, reaching to pet but freezing with their hands outstretched at shoulder-height. If your dog’s feet are on the ground, click/”yes!” and feed. Feed a stream of 5-6 small treats while they stand there. The decoy person walks away once the treat-stream is done. Repeat 5x.
  • Step 6: The decoy person approaches, stopping within 1-2 feet of your dog. If your dog’s feet are on the ground, click/”yes!” and feed. Feed 1-2 small treats while they sit there. Say “go say hi” and allow them to interact with the person. If your dog jumps up at any point, say “too bad” and then walk them away to about 4-5 feet and wait for 5-10 seconds before trying again. Repeat 5x.
  • Step 7: Now practice with regular people on walks! If your dog jumps up at any point, say “too bad” and then walk them away to about 4-5 feet and wait for 5-10 seconds before trying again. Repeat as needed, but if it continues to happen or the person is non-compliant or too exciting, don’t keep trying – just state that your dog is in training and you have to keep moving…and move on. 

Notice that we’re not asking for a “sit”. Sitting can cause a dog to feel stuck or restricted. We want our dogs to feel like they have choice to move away from the stranger who is interacting with them. 

Remember that no one HAS TO pet your dog especially if your dog is uncomfortable or avoidant. People often feel entitled to, but just like with children, dogs own their own bodies and can make choices. The more choice we allow them in greetings, the more comfortable they will feel and the more social they will remain. 

Greeting Dogs on Walks

Two small dogs greeting each other on leash.

Allowing dogs to greet on leash can be a hairy business. We want our dogs to think that when they’re on leash, they’re connected to us and that means they don’t get to say hi to everyone they come across. In fact, meeting other dogs on leash shouldn’t be a regular occurrence, and it should always be with our explicit permission. Otherwise, you end up with the kind of dog that will drag you across the street to meet a new dog. This is also how you end up with a dog that rushes a greeting with a dog that might not want to say hi!

Cues your dog would benefit from (but not necessary at this age)

  • Eye contact – to keep focused on you and be able to pass other people and dogs easily
  • Look at That – an optional game to play that oftentimes diffuses the excitement over people and dogs on walks
  • Go say Hi – to cue your dog to approach and interact with a person or a dog
  • Let’s go (or recall) – to cue your dog to come back to you when their social time is up

How to greet

When greeting dogs, you may want to have a little more control before allowing them to barrel head-first into a dog who may not appreciate that. You can ask for an alternate behaviour like a sit or eye contact and when you get the behaviour you want, you can release them to “go say hi” instead of giving them a treat or a pat on the head. This can take a lot of practice with impulse control based behaviours as well as practice with calm dogs who are also well-versed in impulse control based behaviours and attached to a compliant and patient human. 

When you release them to “go say hi” try to have a nice, loose leash. You will likely notice that they will circle each other, sniffing bums, genitals, faces, ears, you name it. They’re gathering information. Watch that the leashes don’t get tangled or tightened as both can cause dogs to become very quickly uncomfortable and even a bit snarky. We often feel that we can control their behaviour with a tight leash when they’re greeting, but it backfires since it changes their body language, confuses the communication, and creates tension. 

From the moment of contact, count 1-Mississauga-2-Mississauga-3—and then call them away excitedly and when you’re at a distance from the other dog where they can’t reach your dog, reward your dog handsomely for coming back to you! 3-4 treats in a row and lots of praise (but no petting – they generally don’t like us petting them in this context!). If the interaction with the other dog was good, give your “go say Hi” cue again and let them go back. 

Short and sweet is always best. 

Q: What if the other dog is not friendly?

A: Always ask first. If you have a puppy, ask “is your dog friendly towards puppies?” and if the answer is an enthusiastic yes, go for it. If the answer is a hesitant yes, an “I’m not sure” or “sometimes”, or a flat out “no”, then keep moving and avoid them cheerfully. The result is the same regardless of the age of your dog. “I’m not sure” and “sometimes” are automatic no-gos; your dog is not a guinea pig or social experiment for other people’s dogs. If you only find this out once they have started to interact and your dog gets snarked at, simply call your dog away and move away, reassure them gently and give food immediately. You can absolutely pick them up. Comfort is important here. You will NOT be reinforcing fear – I promise. Feeding some treats will help to patch up the negative experience. No need to greet that dog again – we know how it goes, so we just move on.