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Our Thoughts: On-Leash Greetings

You may have come across different opinions on on-leash greetings, and we want to highlight some of our thoughts. Our hope is to share our experiences so that you can make informed decisions when it comes to allowing or declining on-leash greetings.


Potential Dangers of On-Leash Greetings

When we first got Emma, our priority was to “socialize” as much as possible, and I use quotation marks because our understanding of socialization was very narrow, and had omitted very important details.


At the time, we had assumed that “socialization” simply meant “interacting with other dogs”, so our focus was to let Emma meet and play with as many dogs as possible. And since we did not have an environment for off-leash greetings at the time, everything was done on-leash on our walks. While that in and of itself is not wrong, our followers and local dog owners helped us understand why on-leash greetings could potentially be dangerous.


Based on the guidance from our followers, and our own research and conversations with many different dog owners, we’ve come to understand that on-leash greetings, in general, can be more stressful to the dogs than it is engaging and “fun”.


This is a very simplified explanation, but when dogs are put into an unfamiliar situation, they can take one of two actions – fight or flight. So when we allow our dogs to approach each other while on a leash, this eliminates the 2nd option of “flight”, by virtue of them being leashed, so if for any reason the dogs don’t vibe well, the only option that the dogs instinctively have to protect themselves is to fight. So by allowing on-leash greetings, we may unintentionally be putting them in a situation that limits their options to protect themselves and this, as you can imagine, is not only incredibly stressful, but dangerous as well.


So in an effort to avoid any potential altercations, we try to arrange off-leash greetings when possible, especially for first-time meets. Off-leash is great because it provides the dogs with the “flight” option – they can simply move away if they are not interested in engaging with the other dog.


What We Do With Emma

So you might be asking yourself what to do if you and your dog are approached by another dog.

Ultimately, your responsibility as a dog owner is to keep your dog safe, so it’s up to you to either allow or decline on-leash greetings.


At first, we were worried about coming across as rude if we declined an opportunity for a greeting, and had a hard time avoiding on-leash greetings altogether, but we’ve come to learn that the more you speak up to protect your dogs, the less you worry about the human interaction aspect.


Here are a few things that we do or say to either avoid potential on-leash greeting situations or decline the on-leash greeting approach:


  1. If we see a dog approach while on a walk, we often step off to the side and have Emma “sit” and “stay”. This is beneficial for two reasons – A) this is a great training opportunity for “stay”, and B) you allow the other dog to pass by with more space, avoiding the potential for an on-leash greeting entirely.
  2. We go on “structured walks” 90% of the time, which means that we are actively in training most times. So if a dog approaches us, we kindly ask that they recall their dog as we are working on training. Straight and simple.
  3. If we are on an “unstructured walk” and a dog approaches us, we have Emma “sit” and “stay”, and we let the owner know that we’re not comfortable with on-leash greetings and ask them to recall their dog. Sometimes if the owners are unable to recall or they continue the greeting regardless, we keep Emma fully engaged with us, and move away.


Sometimes it might feel like we’re being rude, and maybe some dog owners will actually see us that way, but our priority is ensuring Emma’s safety, monitoring Emma’s behavior and working on Emma’s training, so we’ve grown not to worry about what they think, as long as we’re confident that we are being kind, honest, and direct in the way that we decline greetings.


What We Really Appreciate and Advocate For

Having said this, we don’t think that on-leash greetings are bad – they are just a type of encounter that needs active supervision and quick reactions should something go wrong. Dogs that know and are friendly with each other may have no issues, and maybe even a first-time greeting can go incredibly well. However, we really appreciate owners and handlers who are mindful of the potential dangers of the setting, and help make any on-leash encounters a pleasant one by:


  1. Asking before approaching
  2. Watching the dogs’ body language and swiftly react
  3. Understanding the dogs’ limitations


By doing these things, you help set a comfortable tone to the interaction, mitigating any stress about potentially sounding rude if you need to cut the interaction short.


It’s always good practice to ask before approaching a dog. Even if you’re confident that your dog will do well during the encounter, you never know how the other dog and their owner may react, so it’s about protecting both dogs. The question to ask shouldn’t be “is he/she friendly?”, but rather “can we say hi?”.


Dogs can provide many indicators about how they feel, and it’s the noticing of certain behaviors that will help you protect both dogs during a greeting. It can be the hair on their back, the positioning of their tail, their posture, and a number of other signs that can help you determine whether your dog (or the other dog) is comfortable or uncomfortable in the current situation.


Lastly, understanding what your dogs are uncomfortable with (their limits), and keeping an eye out on potential triggers is also incredibly beneficial. Simply knowing and acknowledging things that you’re currently training/working on, or ways that your dog may behave in certain situations (around female dogs in heat, for example) will help you act decisively and efficiently should there be a moment you’d need to intervene in.


We’re so fortunate to be surrounded by such fantastic dog owners in our local neighbourhood, who are all so considerate to each other and to our dogs, so we rarely have negative on-leash encounters. At the same time, our Instagram community has also been so positive and informative, with many followers sharing their advice, tips and experiences, which has been so eye-opening! Thank you to all of our customers, Instagram followers and blog readers for engaging with us!

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