The Problem with Allowing Dogs to Greet on Leash
When driving into work today, I witnessed 2 dog owners having a chat on the street.
Whether they were old friends or new, the obvious error that jumped out at me about the interaction was the dogs. Neither person was paying any attention to their dog. Dog number one, a pug, was clearly shy and not interested in interacting. Dog number two, a Jack Russell Terrier, was trying with all his might to get closer. The JRT was leaning in, pulling and lunging to get to the rump of the Pug. The Pug, at the end of his leash trying to get away, had nowhere to go.
There are so many things wrong with this scene and so many ways it could go from bad to worse! Dogs communicate a great deal through body language. Displays of fear, excitement, appeasement and submission, to name a few, are all shown through body language. Dogs react after interpreting signals from each other that are often extremely subtle. When interacting, it’s crucial that a dog can convey his emotions as intended. A tight leash prevents that from happening. In fact, it can alter a dog’s body language significantly enough to cause other dogs to misinterpret intentions and a fight could ensue.
Dogs have a fight or flight response, meaning that if they can get away, they typically will try their best to do so. If you take away their ability to leave, they are only left with the option to fight. Often, this is why young puppies get attacked by older dogs. Puppies can be especially intimidating on leash. They tend to jump on and tangle themselves around other dogs due to sheer excitement. An older dog may warn, but due to the leash, may not be able to fully convey his feelings without introducing aggression since he can’t leave the situation.
Dogs who are typically great at interacting off leash will often have on leash aggression issues. This is due to the confusion that occurs when two dogs meet on leash and their body language is misinterpreted. Dogs learn to be defensive when they see another dog approaching on leash if they have had bad interactions in the past.
What Should You Do?
In a perfect world, simply don’t allow your dog to interact with other dogs on leash. If you know nice dogs and have a safe environment to do so, allow dogs to play and interact off leash. If you are approaching another on leash dog on the street, tuck your dog into your side using your heel command (assuming you have taught your dog the basics) and have the dogs pass on opposite sides of the humans. Your dog may be a social creature, but they don’t have to meet every dog out on the street any more than you need to hug every stranger you come across. If you must allow your dog to say hello, make sure both dogs are calm and maintain loose leads. Don’t allow the dogs to circle and tie each other up, that can be very stressful and can make it very difficult to separate dogs should there be an altercation. Don’t allow the dogs to play on leash as it can cause them to get entangled quickly. When you are ready to move on, do NOT tighten the leashes to move the dogs away, rather call your dog on a loose leash to end the interaction without changing his body language.
If you must allow greeting on or off leash, watch closely for body language that is not favourable. Educate yourself in what to look for and put the time into training a reliable recall so you can call your dog to you if you see something concerning start to occur. Don’t hesitate! If you are uncomfortable with the interaction, don’t give it the opportunity to accelerate. Here are a few previous articles meant to educate on canine body language.