I make it a habit never to take someone else’s word for it when it comes to my dogs’ safety around other dogs. I find it really frustrating how often someone shouts to me, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly,” as they plow their way over to us while holding onto their dog’s leash for dear life. In the best cases, the dog is dog-friendly but has poor social skills to approach other dogs in that manner. In the worst cases, the dog is actually dog-aggressive and the owner is oblivious.
I’d consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about canine body language, but I still have a LOT to learn and I’m certainly no expert. I asked my trainer Janine Pierce of J9sK9s Dog Training for advice and she recommended a video made by Sue Sternberg called “Assessing Dog to Dog Interactions.” The video is a step-by-step assessment of a series of dogs greeting each other both on-leash and off-leash, and how to determine whether an interaction between the dogs is safe or risky. It will give you a better understanding of your dog’s signals whether you’re casually encountering another dog on walks or trying to interpret his play style with other dogs.
What I love about the video is that they repeatedly slow the interactions down to help the viewer identify the subtle behavior signs that are easy to miss in real time. The video highlights many signals that I was previously unaware of. I also liked that the video uses subtitles instead of narration (which I find easy to tune out). I highly recommend this video for anyone interested in becoming more behavior-savvy.
The video also makes a point that I think is important to share for those of you who don’t watch it – dogs greeting one another on-leash is the WORST way for dogs to meet. Most dogs find it stressful. Keep in mind when you’re walking your dog that just as humans don’t shake hands with every person they pass on the street, dogs don’t need to say hi to every dog they pass on their walk. Try to save dog interactions for off-leash time at the park or doggy play dates.
And for those of you that are fortunate to have dog-friendly dogs, PLEASE keep this in mind: your dog is only 50% of the equation. Don’t assume that because your dog is friendly, that the other dog is too. As the guardian of a dog-timid Labrador, I’m constantly given odd looks when I explain that Harley doesn’t enjoy on-leash greetings with other dogs. For everyone’s safety, it’s important (and also polite) to ASK first before allowing your dog to approach another dog. If you allow your dog-friendly dog to approach another dog without getting permission first and the other dog responds with a snarl and a bite, it’s because of YOUR lack of proper “petiquette,” not his.