If you haven’t noticed, I tend to spend a great deal of time discussing the virtues of walking a dog on leash because there is great value and learning potential within the simple act of teaching a dog to walk politely on leash.
Some dog owners see leashes as tools of freedom restriction but in fact, leashes are a severely underrated training tool that promotes a fundamental rule of leadership: setting boundaries.
When used properly a leash teaches a dog self control, focus, respecting boundaries, and confidence in unfamiliar places.
Leashes fail only when permissive dog owners do not implement boundaries and allow their dog to drag them up to other people and dogs. As much as we would like to allow that kind of freedom under the assumption that we are making our dogs happy, that permissiveness does nothing for a dog’s confidence or their self control and in fact can cause a dog to become anxious
When dog owners use a leash but are reluctant to teach proper leash walking skills, their dogs tend to express misleading and sometimes confusing greeting behaviours because their body language is often hindered by the leash as they strain at the end of it.
Dog owners further complicate the issue by allowing the dog to continue to strain and rush into an approaching dog’s space under the impression that their dog is friendly and just wants to say hello. But the approaching dog does not see the straining behaviour as friendly and inviting but rather aggressive and invasive. Problems arise and both dogs develop unhealthy behavioural issues while on leash.
Permissive dog owners also linger too long, thinking that due to the fact that the dog is leashed they should have extra greeting and possible playtime with an approaching dog. But when a dog lingers too long within another dog’s space, it is usually viewed as an invitation for conflict, not play.
Dogs are much more comfortable walking past each other on leash if they avoid eye contact and are not allowed to greet each other all the time. If a dog is always allowed to greet another dog while on leash, it creates an environment of anxiety around walk time because the dog is constantly anticipating meeting dogs along the walk instead of expending energy through exercise.
When an owner finally decides to abruptly deny the greetings the dog will initially be upset at the denial of such privilege and may dramatically act out by lunging and barking at the approaching dog. But by using food rewards, the dog can be encouraged to ignore the approaching dog and focus on its human. Dogs can easily learn to walk by without engaging in an interaction or overreacting.
There is no reason to take it personally if someone does not want to greet your dog, nor is there any dog code that is being broken by not allowing your dog to greet every dog it sees while on leash.
When a greeting does occur and is agreed upon by both owners, the three second rule applies. In this case, the three second rule is not about the period in which food that has fallen on the floor can be eaten. The three second rule applies to the amount of time allotted for a dog-to-dog greeting. Three seconds allows the dogs to sniff noses in a polite, non-invasive “hello,” and then move along without making eye contact or posturing. Three seconds allows for an easy, no stress greeting that encourages and rewards healthy behaviour by both dogs.
Be aware that there are side effects of walking your dog on leash and limiting its greeting of other dogs, such as your dog becoming less interested in other dogs and more interested in you. This tends to improve your relationship with your dog, which improves their recall while off leash. There is also an improvement in overall responsiveness and peaceful behaviour.
Teaching a dog how to walk politely on leash is far more important than simply preventing neck injuries to the dog and rotator cuff injuries to the owner, it helps a dog become more confident, calm and social.
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.