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Navigating Dog Interactions: To Greet or not to greet?

Updated: Sep 21, 2023


two dogs meeting
Zander in a controlled interaction with Junior where our client is controlling the situation

There’s nothing nicer for most dog owners than watching their dog run around and doing the things that their dog loves to do most: sniffing on walks, chasing their toy or ball, playing with a playmate, or running rambunctiously at the park.


We so love to see this.


And yet the reality is that people often take a dog that they love dearly, a dog who has zero ability to regulate its own impulses or emotions, and they throw it into situations that the dog is ill-equipped to deal with.

  • Introducing them to other dogs on walks because “that’s what you do” or because they believe they must socialise their dog, even though the dog is certain to overreact in some fashion. Hyper-excitability, narkiness, fear or anxiety responses often go unnoticed by the owner - or noticed but they have no ability to give the dog the feedback that they need to control their own natural impulses or regulate their own emotions.

  • Letting them off the lead at the park to chase their ball when the dog is likely to show possessive behaviours if another dog comes over.

  • Taking them to the dog park to play and subjecting them to playful bullies or allowing them to practice being a playful bully.


So, what should you do to keep your dog safe, socialise them, and let them have some fun?


The answer to this question will almost certainly be different for each dog and each dog owner but let’s have a look at a general guide that I go by and then you can make up your own mind.


Understanding Dog Socialisation


a black dog and a white puppy
Zander & puppy Bear playing in a controlled setting

Firstly, I think that it’s important to understand the concept of socialisation. This does not mean free and unguided play, though dog play can certainly come under this umbrella.


Socialisation is the process of teaching your dog, carefully and in a very controlled fashion to tolerate and remain neutral around humans, animals including dogs, sights, sounds, smells, situations, and anything they are likely to encounter or touch. It's about teaching them to be neutral, not over-stimulate and to be able to deal calmly with anything that comes their way.


This includes other dogs.



So, should you be introducing your dog to other dogs? On lead or off lead? Park or not at the park? There is certainly a lot to consider.


Assessing Sociability


two dogs playing in a garden
Zander & Nala the Mastiff x who would behave like a big friendly goof, if allowed to

The first thing that I want my dog owner clients to consider is what level of sociability their dog has and what situations are likely to be of benefit to their dog. The wishes of the other dog, the other dog owner, or anyone else present should really not be relevant. Don't let that kindly stranger at the park egg you on to letting your dog off lead to run around with assurances of "she'll be ok" or "my dog will show her what to do". The only one who should be showing your dog what to do, or what not to do, is you.


So some of the personality types could include:

The Buffoon


Very friendly but doesn’t listen to anyone


This dog is likely to be a bully or be on the receiving end of “attacks” regularly because the owner doesn’t guide their dog in interacting with other dogs and the dog itself has no idea what the other dog is saying (or doesn’t care). They play too hard, too fast and they just won't take no for an answer. They either are not listening to their owner or the owner isn't unhappy with their behaviour. They're "just being friendly" after all, so "what's wrong with your dog?" When the over-friendly bully gets attacked the owner is often on the attack towards the other dog’s owner without considering that their dog was the one that caused the entire situation.


Dog aggressive


Overly or covertly aggressive.


This dog is not a candidate for head-on meet and greets, play dates or dog park socialisation. They will not enjoy it, they will not benefit from it and they are likely to get worse, especially if they encounter the friendly bully. If you meet one, give them space and spare your dog the heartache and potential injury. If your dog encounters one, please respect the fact that they need space, they need assistance, and they may not "need a friend".


Dog selective


two dogs interacting
Kylo the Poodle x was great with my small dogs but required careful introduction to Zander

Many dogs are actually dog-selective.


They’ll enjoy a calm friendly interaction but have no need to run around like lunatics with dogs they don’t know. They’ll benefit from controlled social situations, calm playdates, or outings with dogs they know and like.


I consider my three dogs, who have high levels of training that I continuously work on, to be dog-selective.


They will enjoy a calm interaction with dogs they don’t know from time to time. None of them want to run and romp with other dogs, each other included. None of them will enjoy the friendly buffoon who jumps all over them and tries to force play. They have some good friends that they love to hang out with and can be trusted in most situations but I always supervise.


I’m very aware of each, what situations I need to avoid or guide them more than average:

  • I don’t allow Jaffa to run up to dogs that he wants to greet, if he approaches at a walking pace he’ll interact nicely, but rushing up to dogs is his kryptonite situation, so I stop him early in any run. Dog's rushing up to him will also not be appreciated.

  • Zander is not allowed to interact with entire male dogs as he’ll behave like a pushy prat, though he is generally friendly. He also vocalises in ways that dogs and owners often misunderstand, so I need to be aware of that, control it, and sometimes let people know.

  • Miki is indifferent to dogs for the most part, even if they take his ball, but I watch carefully as he follows to try to get his ball back that he isn’t on the receiving end of a possessive display from that dog.

The friendly, bomb-proof dog


This one is calm, respectful and has awesome obedience. Nothing bothers them, they are naturally calm and take everything in their stride.


This dog is a rare find.



So, in general, I’m looking out for the dog's body language - mine and theirs, - assessing the intent of any vocalisation or posturing, and making sure that my dogs are listening to me, no matter what.


The other end of the lead


four dogs off for a walk
Heading off for a walk together is a great way to set the tone for a relationship if you need to build one

The second thing that I recommend is assessing what you see in the other dog AND the other dog's owner. And whilst you cannot control them and what they do, you can choose to avoid interacting or exit the situation if you need to.


Things that I avoid like the plague:

  • Dogs who are coming towards us pulling on the lead or vocalising – these dogs are already dysregulated and not listening to their owner trying to control them (or the owner is just allowing this behaviour). No good is ever going to come of this interaction.

  • Dogs who are coming towards us on equipment that gives no control to the owner. I’ve had far too many bad experiences with dogs on a retractable lead and avoid them like the plague, even if the dog seems calm because most owners will just allow the dog to invade my dog’s space and tangling is a real potential, which makes escape for my dogs impossible.

  • Owners who yell “It’s ok he’s friendly”. My idea of friendly is not the same as theirs and they clearly have no recall or no idea that they need to recall their dog. Not an example I want my dogs to follow, even if the dog did turn out to be sociable.


If you choose to allow your dog to meet or interact with an unknown dog, on or off the lead, I’d always be considering that you are risking their life, health, and future sociability. You are weighing up the level of risk essentially.


Is the risk worth the potential gain from this interaction?


That may seem melodramatic, but plenty of dogs have become dog aggressive from one bad experience and a life-changing injury is always a potential, however small. It’s your situation to assess and your risk to take or refuse.


Don’t let your dog, their dog, or even the other owner force you to accept a situation you’re not comfortable with.



The final thing I’d be assessing is the location


three dogs running around
My clients kelpie pair Cleo & Jimbo are allowed a controlled interaction with Zander

If it’s an official off-lead area, then people who are in that area with their dogs will generally be expecting dog-to-dog interaction but that doesn’t mean just allowing it to be a free-for-all all. If you’re not prepared to control your dogs, don’t go there, or don’t go off lead.


And if you’re not prepared for a dog owner who doesn’t recognise the need to control their dog, or who has no ability to do so, then rethink heading into that area, because the reality is that most people think along the lines of “dogs will be dogs” and will stand by passively no matter what is happening, short of a dog fight.


If it’s an officially off-lead area but a dog you encounter is still on lead, the owner is behaving responsibly with a dog who, for whatever reason, should not be off-lead, so please respect that and keep your dog away unless you ask first. We regularly encounter a couple who walk their three dogs in an off-lead area, but one of the dogs remains on lead. I found out why one day when we ran into them unexpectedly at a bend in the path. The on-lead dog showed clear predatory behaviours that disintegrated quickly into a fearful retreat even as I called my dogs away.


If it’s an on-lead area that you are walking in, but the owner and dog look reasonable, still always ask first before allowing any interactions. Many dogs are fine to bypass but not fine to interact with, and just remember, many owners have no idea what their dogs are capable of, what they are feeling or what their body language shows.


In general, if it’s an on-lead area and you don't know the dog, just walk on by. This is one of the most awesome skills that you can teach your dog, how to just be neutral and walk on by.

To Greet or Not to Greet?


So when can they say hello and how should you do it?


I like to think about the level of relationship that your dog has with another dog when making that choice:


3 dogs
This unknown Oodle rushed up to us at the off-lead area in a friendly fashion

No relationship, they are strangers


In this situation, it’s important to teach your dog to ignore this dog unless there is a mutual invitation to interact, then keep it short and sweet. 3 seconds and move on is a great rule and my personal favourite is “always leave them wanting more”.


You can always come back for another hello if everyone is calm and happy but it’s harder to fix the situation if one dog has over-revved or one is feeling invaded.




They’ve met a few times and interacted well


They might be okay to linger a little longer so long as both dogs are mutually invested in the interaction.


We see a beautiful Aussie Shepherd regularly on our walks in an off-lead area and he always hangs far back, always wary, never anti-social but when they finally do interact I don’t allow my dogs to linger and I also like to make sure that my three are not swamping him, or another dog, by all trying to say hi at once, so I’ll often call one or more away.


two dogs
Even though Jaffa wanted to socialise, for me it a was a perfect moment for him to practice "leave it"

They are good friends


These dogs are able to hang out and their humans can relax a little but not disappear, get on the phone or stop paying attention. They'll still require some guidance.


Organising a play date with a friend or family member's dog doesn’t automatically mean that you can simply relax and switch off. Watch and control the interaction, and be prepared to intervene or to stop it if required. Don’t assume because the humans are friends that the dogs automatically will be.



They are siblings or have a sibling-like relationship


I’d allow way more rough and tumble here than anywhere else but make sure that you can always interrupt the play at the drop of a hat and that each dog respects the other dog’s right to calm down, rest or walk away.


Even the best of friends can have an off day.


For example, when I adopted Zander my housemate at the time brought home a new Cavoodle puppy, so he and Autumn grew up as siblings. Even now whenever we see Autumn he is beside himself with excitement but he is sometimes too intrusive with her and she doesn't like it. I have to be there reminding him to not put his snout up her girly bits.


It's just too much.



So, if you decide you’re ready to allow an interaction with another dog, what is the best way?


The best scenario would be with a dog that your dog knows, or at the very least in a situation where you know the owner of the dog. That way you can control the situation even if they don’t or can’t. Watch for mutual body language that everyone is enjoying themselves, don’t allow massive overstimulation and make sure that at any point you can interrupt the play without difficulty.


If you ever find yourself wondering “Is this too rough” or “Is this too much” then the answer is yes, it’s gone too far. Intervene, even if it’s just for a time out for everyone to regroup a little. You can always allow a little more play after an interval.


Build your instincts and then trust your instincts.






About A New Leash on Life Dog Training


a lady with three dogs
Zander, Keryn, Jaffa & Miki

Because I use a balanced approach to dog training if you choose to train with me, we will be using positive reinforcement and rewards, but we will not be using food. I prefer not to rely on food because I don’t want to take food with me every place I ever go, I don’t want my dogs to learn to ignore me if I have no food or run out, and I don’t want to end up in a situation where I might still be of less importance to my dog, even with food, than the dog he's playing with or bird he’s chasing etc. Additionally, I do use the word no, and I do teach a consequence process for ignoring me or for an unacceptable behavioural choice, but without resorting to fear, intimidation, or pain.


So, for me, I train my dogs the way that I feel aligns with my belief system – rewards for listening and good behaviour but without food reliance – consequences without violence for inappropriate choices.


What do you believe in?



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