Introducing Dogs on Leash, Generally Not a Good Idea
Have you ever heard someone say, “my dog tends to be aggressive towards other dogs when on a leash, however off leash he is just fine”? This is a very common scenario we see with many dogs. There are quite a few factors at play here that create this situation. There are also things we can do as dog owners to help stop the aggression when the dog is on the leash.
As we know, all dogs (and animals in general) have a defense instinct. When posed with a threat they can either stand their ground (fight) or run away and flee (flight). This fight or flight instinct varies from dog to dog. Some dogs are more confident and some dogs are more fearful. When we have a dog with a higher flight instinct and we put that dog on a leash, we are eliminating the dog’s ability to flee if he feels threatened. Basically you are getting a cornered response and the dog has no option but to “fight”. Introducing a dog that has a high flight instinct on leash is always a risky endeavor, especially if the dog tends to be defensive.
However, not all dogs introduced on leash are aggressive because they have a high flight instinct. Many times confident dogs may feel falsely challenged during the introduction.
When people are walking their dogs on leash and they see another dog, many times they feel almost obligated to let the dogs greet each other. At first the people will be cautious to see if the other dog is friendly so they will approach the other dog tentatively and slowly. Both dogs will usually pull against the leash to get to the other dog’s face. Unfortunately this puts the dog’s body into an aggressive posture —as the dog leans against his collar or harness, he is bracing forward with his head held high. What makes matters worse is that we are also forcing both dogs to give direct eye contact, which to dogs, is a threat! So the owners are actually forcing the dogs into a direct challenge. No wonder the dogs approach each other and get aggressive.
A friendly greeting for a dog looks something like the following. Some dogs will approach each other frontally for a brief moment. If one dog stiffens and postures during the initial approach, the other dog may do a “look away”, where he turns his head to the side (eyes looking away), which in dog language says to the other dog “I’m no threat”.
Then both dogs will usually do a “butt sniff”. Sniffing each other’s rears is considered in dog language to be a friendly greeting.
Other dogs (when initially greeting) may go into play posture, where the dog does a play bow. The dog’s rear goes up and the dog rests down on his elbows. This is seen in dog language as an invitation to play. Unfortunately, if the owner is holding the leash tight when introducing the dogs (which is generally the case), the dog is not able to get into this position and convey the message he wants to send to the other dog.
Of course there are some dogs that are very submissive who might immediately role onto their backs during the initial greeting. Again, a dog on a tight leash may have a hard time rolling over on their backs during the initial greeting.
- If you have a dog with a high flight instinct ( he tends to be a bit fearful), try to walk him behind you. If he is behind you when another dog approaches, you are taking the pressure of greeting away from him. This will help him desensitize to other dogs on leash. You are basically saying, “stay behind me, I will determine if this dog is friendly or foe. Let me check him out first.” If the other dog appears friendly, you may allow the dogs to greet. It is always safest to take your dog off the leash in a fenced-in area. If you are forced to do a leash introduction, keep slack in the leash to allow the dogs to exhibit a friendly greeting (either a butt sniff, play posture or a submissive roll-over). If you see that the dogs are spending more then 3 seconds nose to nose/head to head, try to guide your dog’s head toward the other dog’s butt. It is important to not hold your breath during introductions as your dog is hearing your breathing and will sense that you are nervous. I also recommend doing a singsong kind of praise (high pitched repetitive words) when the introduction is occurring. This will let your dog know that you are happy and relaxed about meeting this new dog. By following these guidelines, you are likely to avoid aggressive introductions next time you are forced to introduce your dog on leash.
(Original Article posted on CanineMaster.com blog)