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On-Leash Dog Greetings - Do's and Don'ts


Most dog owners think it's ok letting dogs greet on leash, especially when they consider their dog to be friendly. However, greeting other dogs while on leash is not always a great idea. Especially if the dogs don't know each other, it can be very dangerous to all involved. Let's look at what causes leash aggression in dogs.

Dog behaviourists and trainers will tell you it’s a bad idea to let your dog greet other dogs whilst on-leash. And there are very good reasons for it.  

Not all dogs are interested in making friends with other dogs.  Look at it this way, do you offer to shake the hand of every human you come across? Unlikely, and dogs don’t always want to sniff another dog's butt.  

If you mix with other dog owners, you’ve no doubt heard them say “My dog is friendly with other dogs when it’s off-leash; it’s only dog-aggressive when it’s on-leash.”  There's a good chance you’ve said it yourself.   

There are a number of reasons as to why dogs behave differently when leashed as opposed to being off-leash. Let's take a look what causes leash aggression; 

1. Their Natural Method of Communication is Restricted

Dogs have a very specific way of communicating. They are sensitive to smell, body language, and eye contact. 

When dogs greet each other they approach from the side. Circling each other leading to sniffing each other’s rear end, that’s their way of saying hello. When leashed, this natural instinct of greeting is compromised. The dog can not perform its natural behaviour of sniffing which can lead to stress and fear.  

In addition, their leads can get tangled. This restriction of movement can add to the stress and fear of the dog causing them to respond aggressively.  

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2. Feeling Trapped 

Dogs have a strong fight or flight response.  The restriction of movement whilst on-leash can make them feel fearful, stressed, and vulnerable. Resulting in fearful cowering or aggressive behaviour toward the other dog – or human for that matter.    

It's important to consider that a dog may have experienced a prior negative event whilst on-leash. Causing them to be fearful of all dogs when on leash.  They may have been attacked by another dog which can create a strong negative association. 

It’s not uncommon to see dogs on leashes behave aggressively. When they see a particular breed or type of dog that reminds them of a prior aggressor. 

The friendliest and most sociable dog may fall into this category. Never assume you can approach a dog when on leash.   

3. Not All Dogs Need Friends

Not all dogs require to be sociable. The older they are the less likely they are to make new friends.  Some dogs also have a pattern in choosing their friends. Such as choosing only to be friendly with puppies and smaller dogs because they feel less threatened.  

If you want to socialise your dog, take them to dog daycare. Arrange play dates with other dogs they are familiar with. And meet at an off-leash dog park or arrange an on-leash walk with another friend who has a dog. 

4. Reinforces Bad Habits 

Often when both dogs approach each other on leashes they are friendly and/or good friends. They will most likely pull with extreme excitement to reach each other. Generally, this happens from a young age when puppies are easily excitable. This may seem harmless at first. But over time, pulling towards other dogs becomes an ingrained behaviour and can be dangerous for the dog and you. If you reward them by letting them greet every dog you see, you’re reinforcing that pulling behaviour. 

When your dog pulls, our natural reaction is to tighten the leash. This can contribute to the stress between dogs causing fear and aggression.  Dogs may pull even harder toward one another, barking, snapping and lunging. Resulting in an unpleasant and dangerous experience for all involved.  

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Just Say NO!

As dog owners, we have a duty of care to prioritise the safety of our dogs.  Even if both dogs are seen to be “friendly” or “well-behaved”, should you allow them to meet and greet on a leash? NO!  

At times that means we need to change direction when another dog is heading towards our dog. Or tell the owner to stop and back away. It may seem rude, but it’s the smart and responsible action to take. After all, your dog trusts you to keep them safe.  

How to Stop Dogs Being Aggressive on Leash

If you find yourself cornered in a situation where you and your dog are approached by another dog, here are some tips on how to manage the situation. 

  • Let the handler of the other dog know you’re concerned about them interacting
  • Keep your leash loose allowing the dogs to have room to navigate and not feel trapped
  • Watch closely for body language that looks tense or fearful. If it looks like either dog is uncomfortable, then gently move away and let the handler of the dog know why
  • If you are at all uncomfortable with the encounter, slowly distract your dog with something else and call your dog.  Treats and balls work well - DO NOT tighten the leash
  • Always be aware of your surroundings and don’t be afraid to tell people to back off. 

It's always a great idea to work with a dog behaviourist or a professional dog trainer. They can teach your dog how to behave on a leash. It's equally important to train ourselves on how to manage these situations and keep ourselves and our dogs safe. Hopefully, these tips on what causes leash aggression have helped you.

Happy walking!

Disclaimer: The entire contents of this email and website are not to be taken as medical advice. The team at PetWell® encourages you to make your own pet healthcare decisions based on your research. And in partnership with a qualified pet healthcare professional.

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