DogSpeak: On-leash greeting

Dogs love to run free and race the zoomies. Their play is full of starts, stops, pauses, and play agains! During play, dogs are talking to one another with play bows, head turns, ear and mouth positioning, lifted paws and loads of other DogSpeak.

When on leash, a dog’s freedom to intermingle naturally is stunted by this physical barrier. Dogs speak with their body and tension in the leash can prevent the natural flow of DogSpeak. That same pesky leash however, just so happens to be an invaluable tool in keeping them safe from other physical dangers (and there’s nothing that irritates me more than seeing a dog walking off leash in an inappropriate setting).

The photo below is a prime example of an awkward DogSpeak moment. Both dogs are straining to get to one another for a greeting. The barrier of the leash is holding each one of them back. Look at their bodies as a result.

The 10-inch sprout of a Brussels Griffon looks like he’s putting up his chest and saying “I’m a LION.” He is firmly planted on all four paws with his mouth tightly closed, staring directly at the Aussie. If you look closely, the back end of his body is crouched and tail tucked. This indicates that he’s feeling as confident as the lion in Wizard of Oz.

The Aussie is so restrained that his collar looks like it might come through the back of his neck like a magic trick! His mouth is closed and he’s offering whale eye. He’s really looming over this little sprout.

This is an inappropriate dog to dog greeting. Without leashes, these dogs would both likely approach to one another’s side. To no of fault their own however, the leashes (and those holding them ) keep each dog right at one another’s face.

Leash greetings can leave some dogs feeling a bit nervous. The tension in the neck and on the chest creates defensive and overbearing body postures. Dogs can also recognize that they do not have an option to remove themselves from the situation because of the connection to the leash. Both of these things can leave a dog feeling anxious; creating a recipe for bad impressions and associations with dogs while on leash.

The question then, “Should I not allow my dog to greet other dogs while on leash?”

I am hesitant to say, absolutely no leash greetings, but leash greeting should be done with thought. You should be ready to do some tricky leash handling in terms of making sure the dogs do not feel tension on their necks. Giving them enough slack in the leashes to move about freely without tension and without it affecting their ability to offer natural body posturing.

You also need to be a good doggy guardian. If a dog looks stiff as he approaches your dog, don’t allow the greeting. Politely just say, “I’m so sorry, we’re in a rush.” If your dog is stiff during dog to dog leash greetings, it’s better NOT to engage in these greetings until you can work with a humane trainer, one that does not use a correction collar or techniques (which as you can imagine only further ignites the issue).

In the video below, you see two different dog to dog leash greetings.

The first greeting is one that should be avoided. Notice the black dog on the right. He is stiff and near frozen throughout the greeting. He is offering very slight lip licks. The lighter colored dog on the left is offering a lot of calming head turns, and a very loose wag in hopes of communicating his friendly intentions and to defuse the situation.

Notice that the handler of the black dog , who is clearly showing signs of being uncomfortable, puts slight tension on his leash. Boom…”rrrrrffff!!!”

In the second more neutral greeting, the dogs offer a lot of head turns away and gazes. Remember, these dogs are not distracted, they are offering the head turns and gazes intentionally. Their bodies are quite floppy and loose. This is a more appropriate on leash greeting.

Looking for more ways to better understand and communicate with your dog? Check out all of Colleen’s DogSpeak columns…