A Mannerly Hello – Tips for Good Greetings Between Dogs

When out for a walk, there are plenty of opportunities to meet and greet other dogs and people. Here are some pointers to practice your dog’s manners so that saying hello is enjoyable for both dog and guardian.

What does an appropriate dog-to-dog greeting look like?

You’ve probably seen it hundreds of times. When two friendly dogs meet on leash, they will sniff at the sides of the mouth, circle around, sniff at the butt and then go back to sniff at the mouth. An appropriate greeting is like a dance, tails may be wagging long and slow if relaxed, or high and stiff or even tucked when unsure.

Some dogs may have a lackluster greeting or may be very forward when saying hello. The dog that skips the sniffing and goes right to play biting or paws on the back can understandably rub many a dog the wrong way.

Tip: Whether your dog says hi “by the rules” or not, you can praise and reward your dog for sniffing and circling for starters. If the other dog (or your own) has a lackluster greeting, this isn’t something he’ll grow out of, instead, don’t allow him to greet other dogs until you have some obedience work or more “self control” under your belt (see below).

Outta Control…but Friendly

If your dog is friendly, but has a history of going bonkers, barking, lunging and THEN greeting a dog, guess what? He’s learning that all that other stuff “works” to give him access to a saying hello to his fellow friend. Rather than rehearsing the inappropriate behavior, skip the greetings for a few weeks and start to work on your dog’s self control. Sniffing another dog is a huge pay off, so make sure Fido is “earning” it by behaving rather than bucking out of control. You first want to work on the dog practicing being relaxed in the presence of another dog.

Tips: How do you work on your dog’s self control? Can you get your dog to calmly stand, sit or just look at another dog with minimal movement when the dog is 50 feet away? If not, start there. In addition to just looking at another dog, you can also reward anything but the inappropriate behavior (barking, lunging, jumping, whining, pulling). As you perfect a more relaxed and controlled response, gradually decrease the distance and work closer and closer to dog friendly dogs.

Keeping the Leash Loose

If you add tension on the leash, reel your dog in or pull back on the leash, chances are your dog will be as tense as the leash. Limiting your dog’s leash length may give you the allusion of control, but it can also restrict his ability to communicate via body language. Pulling back on the leash may have your friendly Fido’s appear more threatening, and hardly can the poor boy be relaxed.

Tip: Rather than tightening up that leash, dance with your dogs as they circle one another. And if you’re not sure if the other dog is friendly, don’t risk a bad experience and keep on walking.

Greeting People So much for the appropriate dog greeting, what about the appropriate people greeting? In an ideal world, dogs would approach people, sit nicely and wait to be petted. Sounds great, doesn’t it? And, it’s totally achievable. If you have a social butterfly, for starters, work on sitting or standing when people are some distance away (25-50 feet) and as the dog continues to succeed in a sit, decrease the distance bit by bit and continue to reward heavily with food.

Tips: You can also always step on the leash to prevent jumping. This allows you to have more control while also not allowing the dog to be reinforced with attention for jumping. In addition, instruct people to ignore your dog, and only give him food and attention when he’s standing or sitting (with all fours on the floor). Make sure you don’t put your dog in a situation that he’s not ready for. So, first master calm behavior at some distance from people before you try this in the real world.

Saying hello to another dog or a new person is hugely rewarding for your dogs. Even if he’s friendly, just keep in mind, any out of control behavior to earn access to the strange dog or person is reinforced if the dog gets the prize! Work on rewarding standing, sitting and even just looking at new dog/person at a distance if you find you have an out of control greeter. And look for the signature sniffing and dance with your dogs while they greet, and of course not all dogs are friendly, so before you assume it’s okay to say hello, always ask the other guardian permission first.

by Leigh Siegfried, CPDT
Leigh Siegfried is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer and owner of Opportunity Barks Behavior and Training. She offers private training and behavior counseling in Washington, DC and Northern Virginia and can be reached at opportunitybarks@cox.net.