Dog-Walking Etiquette: 7 Tips for a Better Walk

Will other dog owners think I'm stuck up if I avoid them? Is it safe to approach other dogs on leash?


You’re all ready to take your dog for a walk and you think you’ve got everything. Bags? Check. Water bottle? Check. But have you brushed up on your leash etiquette? Do you know the dos and don’ts for approaching other dogs you encounter on your daily walks? As I found out, it involves matters of dog safety and training, as well as your own knowledge and correct reactions.

I’d wondered what the correct etiquette is for meeting dogs, especially because my husband and I walk our dog on a public trail that can get pretty busy on the weekends. Some pet parents rush by with their dogs saying, “Leave it, leave it, leave it!” Other walkers are more open to dog greets, and sometimes I’m embarrassed when my dog shows indifference to the other dog and is more interested in squirrels. Will the other owners think my dog is stuck up? At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had a dog that would bark and rear up whenever a strange dog approached. I contacted an expert for some guidelines.

Marthina McClay is a certified dog trainer with Dog Training for People who specializes in dogs that are reactive to other dogs while on leash. McClay says leash reactivity is one of the biggest dog behavioral issues caused by humans.

“Leash reactivity has nothing to do with aggression,” said McClay. “It comes from distancing behaviors. It’s like saying, ‘Get out of my face.'”

McClay uses a human example to illustrate her point, comparing dogs meeting on a walk to humans meeting for the first time at a party.

“You wouldn’t go and sit on a stranger’s lap, would you?” she said. “Dogs have personal space just like we do, and they may become offended when a stranger invades that space.”

When a dog feels that his or her personal space has been invaded, the natural response is to bark and possibly snap back at the intruder. McClay said dogs get blamed for being aggressive in these situations, but it’s a normal reaction for a dog to “get cranky” about a strange dog rushing up to him or her.

“Dogs are constantly placed into situations in which they are forced to endure invasion of their space and are set up to fail at greetings,” she said.

In a natural setting, when two dogs notice each other, they would show the side of their body and the side of their face to another dog. The reason dogs display their sides first is because staring at another dog head-on is considered a challenge in dog language. McClay said they might even turn to sniff at something in order to appear less threatening to the other dog.

“Unfortunately, owners often miss or misread these cues and instead we yank them along, forcing them to confront the other dog,” McClay said.

Based on McClay’s advice, here are some guidelines for meeting and greeting other dogs:

1. When you see an unknown dog, avoid greets on a walk.

2. If the dogs have met before, then it’s fine to have them greet each other.

3. If you want to keep your dog focused on you instead of other dogs, be sure to bring high-value treats on walks.

4. Watch for the nose-to-butt greeting — a good one is completely normal in the canine kingdom.

5. Don’t let other dogs invade your dog’s space, and respect other dogs’ space.

6. Avoid the people who say, “Oh, he wants to say hi,” as they force their dog on your dog.

7. Remember that some dogs may have not had leash greets when they were younger and are therefore more apprehensive about meeting strange dogs.

I’m going to keep these tips in mind when we venture out. How about you? Is your dog leash reactive?

Other stories on dog walking and behavior:

5 Myths About Dog Behavior That Often Lead to Tragedy
Why I’m No Longer a High-End Dog-Walker
Does Your Dog Have a Strong Prey Drive? Mine Does — And Here’s How I Curbed It

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