One of the most common complaints I get from dog owners is that they think their dog is “aggressive” on leash towards other dogs. Usually this this is due to the fact that the owners have unknowingly put their dogs in situation after situation, where their dog or the other dog is either too excited or exhibiting bad greeting behaviors. I know that you want your dog to get along with lots of other dogs and I know your intentions are good! However, you have to put yourself in the dog’s shoes.
Think about it…. If another person that you did not know, came rushing up to you, sticking his face into yours and nose butting you or jumping uncontrollably all around you, flaying his arms all over the place, how would you feel? Probably a little uneasy at the very least. Maybe even frightened. You might even get defensive. The person greeting you may have good intentions and mean you no harm, but how do you know this? You have no history with this person, you just don’t know if this person is going to lose control in all of his/her excitement and start becoming violent. What if he/she hits you? Or starts pulling on your clothes? How will you respond? In this situation, you would probably react by doing 1 of 2 things, 1) Move away from this seriously annoying stranger (and probably crazy person), or 2) Prepare to defend yourself from this potentially dangerous person!
This is exactly how your dogs feel! But it is made even worse by the fact that your dog is on a leash and can’t move away and/or, you, the owner, keeps pushing/pulling/moving your dog towards the other dog. I see this situation over and over again – 2 dog owners and their leashed dogs approaching each other, one or both the dogs are extremely excited (not necessarily in a mean way, just plain excited to see another dog). These dogs may be jumping around, wagging their tails, staring at the other dog, vocalizing (whining or barking), and what do the owners do? They walk right up to each other. Then one of the dogs snaps or bites the other dogs. Now one or both of the owners is mortified stating “I don’t understand why he did that, he just wanted to greet that other dog and play with him!”
Remember it is YOUR responsibility to keep your dog safe. You are the leader and your dog expects you to take this job very seriously. If you don’t, then you put your dog in a position where he needs to control the situation. It just takes a couple of common sense things to always follow when two dogs meet for the first time. By practicing these Do’s and Don’ts consistently each and every time you greet another dog, you will increase the bond between you and your dog, because your dog will realize that you are doing your job in keeping him safe. And you will prevent most situations where one or both dogs get defensive during the greeting which could result in an unwanted outcome where 1 or both dogs become reactive.
DO’s & DON’TS
DON’T let dogs greet each other if one of them IS NOT calm (Both dogs must always be calm for a new greeting! Make them sit for a few minutes and practice some Attention exercises to help calm them down before they greet a new dog)
DON’T let your dog stare at the other dog while they are approaching – Interrupt them or use body blocking techniques (where you place your body between both dogs to block them from being able to see each other)
DON’T force your dog to meet another dog (your dog may not want to greet EVERY dog, and vise versa! If one dog looks anxious or afraid, greet another day!)
DON’T let your dog pull you over to or rush towards a dog for greeting (This can cause the other dog to get very defensive)
DON’T let the dogs do a head on or face to face greetings especially if they are demonstrating any stiffness, hard eye contact, or over excitement behaviors
DON’T tighten up on the leash
DO ask your dog to SIT STAY and focus on you before being released for any dog greeting
DO ask the other owner if they are comfortable introducing the dogs
DO put greeting on a cue or command like “SAY HELLO”
DO let dog approach each other at an angle or nose to butt
DO be relaxed and make sure the leash is loose (Yes this means YOU the handler! You need to stay calm too!)
DO watch your dog’s and the other dog’s body language if you see:
- Body stiffening
- Whale eyes (you can see the whites of your dog’s eyes)
- Lip Lift
- Warning growl or intense vocalization (even if from excitability or frustration)
- One dog backing up and crouching down
THEN get your body in between the dogs and walk/push/backaway your dog away from other dog increasing distance between the 2 dogs.
MAKE A DECISION – Should you try again after you get the dogs calm again? Or try another day or with a different dog. Base this decision on input from the dogs and from the other dog owner. Greetings should be mutally agreed to by all participants — both human and dog!