Dog Behavior: Prevent Dogs Meeting When on Leash
While much attention has been given to dog behavior/etiquette in off leash parks, I would like to bring attention to another problem with how we manage dogs in an urban context, and that is: dog owners allowing/encouraging dogs to meet each other while on leash.
Based on my experiences in my own neighborhood and as a professional dog trainer, it appears that most dog owners are unaware that on-leash encounters with other dogs can be problematic and create stress for the dogs, and are best to be avoided. There are multiple reasons for this, including the fact that the leash prevents the dog from using avoidance, retreat or flight in response to stress, and as such, the dog’s option in response to feeling threatened becomes limited to the use of aggressive displays.
Many dog owners are not aware of signs of stress in dogs’ body language and attempts to communicate with each other, and bring their dogs into each other to meet even though the dog is, in fact, communicating discomfort and a desire to stay away. The dogs’ body language and position when greeting dogs on leash is also complicated by owners holding or pulling back on the leashes, which interferes with the intended messages the dogs are attempting to communicate. Even if the interaction between the dogs does occur without incident, a dog who is rewarded for trying to initiate an interaction while walking by another dog may learn that pulling, straining, and lunging towards other dogs pays off, and will likely become increasingly difficult to manage on leash when there are other dogs present.
When your dog is on a leash, you should avoid contact with any other dogs. You may need to resist social pressure from other owners to allow your dogs to meet, as there are many well-intentioned owners who believe they are helping to “socialize” their dogs by allowing them to meet and greet other dogs on leash. Even when the interaction does not go very smoothly (dogs rushing up, engaging in rude/snarky behaviors or even aggression), people unknowingly accept that as normal and continue to try to socialize their dog by allowing on leash greetings, thereby continuing to reinforce the dog’s poor responses to meeting other dogs. However, there is no need for your leashed dog to learn how to greet other dogs at all. Teaching your dog to walk past and ignore other dogs while walking on leash will make your dog a far better canine citizen and many other owners will be appreciative as well. It is entirely possible that other dog owners are choosing to walk on leashes in their neighborhoods because they are not interested in having to deal with unpredictable encounters with other dogs. It is also possible that their dogs are happy to be left alone or even are fearful or uncomfortable interacting with other dogs and their owner may be doing their best to keep an appropriate distance away from your dog to keep their dog safe from an unpleasant interaction.
Please do not allow your dog (leashed or unleashed) to approach or pursue another dog on leash, and give the passing dog some extra space by moving aside slightly to move past your dog without incident. It may be helpful to move your dog to the other side of you when passing, to keep yourself in between your dog and the passing dog. Keep your dog on leash unless you are in a designated off leash area, and keep your dog close to you when passing other dogs, even if you are using a retractable leash. If you are having difficulty controlling your dog when other dogs are passing by, please seek out a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) to help you train your dog to ignore other dogs when passing.
Cheryl Wittevrongel is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and Certified Behavior Consultant Canine (CBCC-KA).