Greeting Dogs 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 will need:

  • 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.