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Reading Dog-Dog Body Language During or Before Greetings

Pet Health and Safety  •   Jasey Day  •   Oct 26, 2016

What is your dog saying with his body language when he’s nearing another dog? Is your dog being courteous, rude, or offering mixed messages? Read on to learn more about canine cues for dog-dog greetings and how to set your dog up for success.

It’s best to let your pup meet another dog when both canines are offering the appropriate language. This link provides a good summary of polite dog-dog interactions, which include some of the below signals:

  • Approaching the other dog in a sideways arc (instead of head-on)
  • Moving slowly and calmly (no rushing!)
  • Avoiding direct eye contact (it’s ill-mannered in dog language!)
  • Offering soft eyes
  • Portraying relaxed and loose (not tense) ears, tails (soft, not frantic, wagging), and bodies

Dogs offer the most natural body language, or canine speak, when they are off leash and in neutral environments. A neutral territory would be a space that neither dog thinks that he owns. Having your dog meet another pup with one or both dogs on leash may create additional stress and interrupt natural canine communication patterns.

Inappropriate greetings may involve both dogs straining at the end of their leashes, hard staring at the other dog, whale eye (the whites of a dog’s eyes are showing), and head-on greetings. Other warning signs of discomfort or “dog rudeness” may include an arched neck; ears pinned back; hackles up (this indicates over-arousal); a frozen, high tail; lunging or rushing; and non-relaxed (stiff) legs, face, and overall posture. You can find additional information on leash greetings in this article and in this post.

Try parallel walking before allowing dogs to meet on leash. Instead of letting the dogs meet immediately, start walking down the street - in the same direction as and parallel with the other dog and handler - with the dogs near each other but not close enough to touch and interact. During the walk, gradually allow the dogs to get closer together until they are walking side by side. As the dogs get closer, the dogs realize that the other dog is not a threat. Allow the dogs to meet side-ways with an arc when both dogs are relaxed.

You may or may not decide to let your dog greet another dog on leash, but you can use seeing another dog for a positive training opportunity. Play the “look at that” (LAT) game by Leslie McDevitt when you see new dogs to help your dog stay relaxed. She describes this in her book “Control Unleashed” and this link offers a preview. Instead of asking your dog to look away from something stimulating, such as another dog, you reward your dog for peacefully looking at the interesting item (e.g. another dog). When your dog is serenely looking at another dog, say “yes.” Your dog reorients to you (looks in your direction) to get his treat! Treat your dog. Your dog learns that he is allowed to look at other dogs, associates calmly looking at other dogs positively, and builds up stamina to tranquilly look at the other dogs for longer periods of time.

Ultimately, you are your dog’s advocate. Study your dog to learn his body cues. It is okay to say “no” to greetings (to the human handlers), especially if you think your dog seems nervous or if either dog is offering impolite language.

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