“My dog, Snarky, is fine at the dog park, but he barks at other dogs when he’s on leash.” This is more common a problem than you might think. There are a lof of reasons dogs might not behave pleasantly when they meet another dog on lead, and we can’t go into them all in a short blog post. However, we know that dog greetings often go sour about three seconds into a greeting. You can circumvent a lot of problems in your snarky dog if you teach a polite, three second greeting: “Say hello.”
DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS WITHOUT THE ASSISTANCE OF A PROFESSIONAL TRAINER IF YOUR DOG IS REACTIVE OR AGGRESSIVE OR POSSESSIVE OF FOOD (a so-called “resource guarder”).
1. Start with a dog or person your dog *likes* and one at whom you know he or she will not snark. Face each other about ten feet apart and, with your dog at heel and treats in your hand, approach the helper dog/person at a casual walk. Make sure to keep your leash loose – a taut leash is a signal to a dog that something is not quite right. When you reach each other, say in an upbeat tone, “Say, hello!” and give your dog a treat or two. At the same time, count aloud “1, 2, 3”, and use a stop command like “Thank you”, and turn and walk away. Our goal is to teach the dog that greeting a new dog on lead is a party! This is why the treats appear as we approach and disappear when we walk away.
2. Watch your dog carefully for signs that the interaction is going to go sour. If one dog is staring at the other, someone’s body grows still, a tail is tucked, jaws are tight, or heaven forbid someone starts growling, walk away using a happy tone. Then call a professional.
3. If your dog remained relaxed throughout step 1, repeat this step, first asking your dog “Should we say hello?” and then repeating “hello” when you reach the helpers. Give treats while greeting, and then stop treats as you say “Thank you” and walk away. Remember to keep your tone upbeat at all times.
4. Repeat frequently with known helpers and dogs. When you are consistently getting a relaxed, happy dog in “hello saying”, you may attempt the exercise with a friendly stranger dog.
If at any time your dog vocalizes, exhibits stress signals like licking his lips, yawning, turning away, showing the whites of his or her eyes, or shaking like he’s wet, STOP. Or, If you can’t get close to another dog and handler without your dog remaining calm, STOP. Contact a professional for help. Ahem. We know a good one.
If you're overwhelmed and have tried everything, know that you are not alone. Forgive yourself for trying anything one can to help a beloved dog and instead try our gentle, science-based approach. Our dogs teach us skill, empathy, gratitude, and excellence — and at A Pleasant Dog, we're proud to share these lessons with you.