On Lead Greetings - Risky Business!
Dogs communicate really well with each other when they have learned to and are given space to do so. A competently social dog will never go directly towards an unknown dog eye to eye, or even face to face. They would curve around and sniff. They offer signals that unless we watch really carefully will go unnoticed by us. A blink, a glance away, a lick of the nose can be a definite request for space and if the other dog is socially savvy, they will respect that, and everyone will stay happy.
When a dog greets another on lead, the dynamics change quite a lot. First of all, they usually walk face to face towards each other, they then don’t get the chance to curve around Naturally for a sniff because of the physical barrier between them.
That physical barrier really is as psychological as it is physical. The dog who is a little bit worried about other dogs will be really worried if they have a lead on. They will feel super vulnerable because they don’t think they could escape from the other dog if something went wrong. A lead also impedes communication.
Can you imagine trying to communicate with someone, without using words whilst you are also attached to a rope that is being held by someone else? Now imagine the person you are trying to communicate is really intimidating to you, how would you feel? This is why it’s a good idea to keep on lead greeting to a minimum of exposures and a maximum of two to three seconds – to stop pressure building.
As an example of how being on the lead can make a dog feel, I’ll tell you about Chips.
My own dog who is now twelve is a typical reactive, sound-sensitive, barking powerhouse of anxiety. Chips has my heart and soul despite being a pain in the bum most days and the ear all days. Chips loves other dogs, he loves being in a group of dogs and will play wonderfully given the chance, but put him on the lead with the same group of dogs and he becomes a different boy. I could literally pick the lead up and he lunges, drop the lead and he races off the other way (away from the dog he was trying to threaten a fraction of a second before).
It’s all about freedom you see, freedom to move, freedom to go the other way and freedom to stay safe.
Disclaimer: I'm not saying let your dog off lead just to greet - I'm saying if they are on a lead don't force them to walk towards or meet other dogs.