Written by Naomi White
I never trust dogs who I don’t know, I see every dog I meet as a potentially dangerous situation, maybe that’s an unhealthy approach but I’ve met enough to know you can’t trust people to keep their dogs under-control. The majority of people I meet seem to have no concept of appropriate or inappropriate dog-to-dog greetings, I regularly see dogs being jumped all over, over-sniffed or barrelled into by other dogs, sometimes nothing comes from the inappropriate greeting but all too often it can cause tension or unnecessary stress to the dogs involved.
People need more education regarding social etiquette between dogs, there’s not enough awareness about the risks of dog-dog greetings or how to train and manage dogs in these interactions.
My main rules with greeting unknown dogs are:
The dog must approach with their handler, never being allowed to run over to an unknown dog from a distance
If the dog isn’t capable of this control then it should be on a lead or longline
Work on calm approaches – my go-to method is scatter feeding or placing treats on the floor as approaching to keep the dog relaxed and less fixated on the other dog
If calm behaviour isn’t possible on approach then the dog isn’t ready to be greeting unknown dogs yet and more work needs to be done from a distance
Never approach a dog on a lead (it’s on lead for a reason – respect that!)
Take notice if someone steps off the path or moves away, they are probably trying to give their dog more space and therefore do not need your dog ruining this
I also live by the 3 second rule … if I allow a dog to greet an unknown dog, I will allow up to 3 seconds of sniffing and then encourage them to move on, in my opinion this is enough time for a good greeting – it’s usually short enough to avoid the greeting becoming tense or inappropriate and keeps it polite and pleasant – a good experience all round!
I use ‘let’s go’ to move a dog on from a greeting (with dogs or people), this signals to the dog that we’re moving away from the greeting. Using a cue like this enables you to move your dog on once the 3 seconds are up (or sooner if the greeting looks tense), and it reduces any conflict when moving away, the dog makes the choice to respond and move away rather than being forced or dragged away which can just add tension to the greeting.
Teaching Let’s Go
With your dog on lead, turn away from him and say ‘yes’ (or click) when your dog turns to follow you. Reward by tossing the treat ahead of you
Repeat this until your dog is readily following your turn
Start adding the ‘let’s go’ cue – say ‘let’s go’, turn away, mark with ‘yes’ and toss the treat
Add more movement – say ‘let’s go’, turn away and take a few quick steps, then say ‘yes’ and toss the treat
Keep increasing the distance you move each time
Once your dog is engaged with this concept then you can add some distractions. To begin with I would practice in a couple of different quiet locations (e.g. different rooms in the house, in the garden or in a quiet walking location)
Then I would add food (or a toy) as a distraction, place the food down, allow your dog to see it and as he moves towards it say ‘let’s go’ and turn away, as soon as he moves with you say ‘yes’ and toss the reward
Once he is successfully responding to this set-up then I would begin bringing the cue into walks, first away from dogs in the distance and then when this response is reliable you can decrease the distance between dogs until you feel he’s ready to respond during an actual greeting
This is just one of my go-to methods for teaching dogs and their owner’s better dog-dog greetings, there are many more methods you can use and not every dog responds to the same method but I find this is a good one for many dogs. If your dog struggles with frustration when meeting dogs then this method can work really well, but you will need to work at a distance for longer until your dog is able to approach another dog in a calmer manner.
‘Let’s go’ can be used in any situation where you want to get your dog away, he will learn that the cue results in something super rewarding so you can use it to move your dog away from an approaching person, another dog or something he’s unsure of. It’s a great space-creating behaviour which your dog will learn to use if he’s uncomfortable and needs more space!
Teaching appropriate social greetings isn’t always as straight-forward as we hope and naturally some dogs find social situations more challenging. If this is the case with your dog then it’s advisable to seek help from an experienced professional to ensure you and your dog are set up to be successful.
It can take many repetitions, practice and controlled situations to teach a dog more appropriate social etiquette, so it’s worth considering seeking help with this. The residential training course at Adolescent Dogs is ideal for dog’s who struggle with dog-dog interactions because it allows opportunity to meet other dogs in a controlled manner, creating successful and positive interactions. There is also an online course option which covers the ‘let’s go’ cue in more detail, as well as many other methods which work towards better greetings and interactions!