A few months ago I wrote about off lead risk assessments and the role it plays in keeping your dog and others safe while off lead. Risk assessments should also be done for on lead greetings too. On lead greetings can be highly charged events because of the physical restriction placed on dogs. For dogs who want to approach, on lead greetings can be quite frustrating, and for dogs who want distance, on lead interactions can be frightening. Both can lead to displays of aggression particularly if a proper risk assessment is not done every time.
You know your dog better than anyone else, you know how they greet other dogs on lead. If your dog has little impulse control the chances of having a calm on lead greeting is low, and the risk of someone being injured or a dog-to-dog fight breaking out is high. It is wise to avoid on lead greetings until your dog develops some self-control through structured on lead greeting practice sessions first. Sometimes dogs are better at greeting certain kinds of dogs, and this is where you can make an assessment to greet or to avoid, all based on knowing your dog better than anyone else.
Your skill level at being able to manage your dog and communicate with the other owner is also an important part of conducting an on lead risk assessment. All dog handlers should communicate with one another about their dog’s temperaments. All you need to say is ‘can our dogs say hello?’ The answer will give you further information about how risky the interaction will be. If in doubt do not allow the dogs to interact. An appropriately labelled collar and lead is another great way to let people know about your dogs’ temperament, without having to tell them verbally.
Labelled collars and leads will also take the guess-work out of trying to determine if other dogs are approachable or not. If you see a dog wearing a labelled dog collar and lead you will instantly have more information to make a stronger risk assessment. Becoming familiar with canine body language will also help you to notice stress in another dog and will help strengthen your risk assessment.
Our stress levels as humans also impacts on our dogs on lead greeting risk factors. I have found it to be true, we do transmit our own stress down to our dogs through the lead (I also believe they can smell it too). If you are feeling stressed about a greeting abort it. Likewise if you see the other handler becoming tense it would be a good idea to avoid the greeting. The risk of a poor on lead interaction is greater when we are stressed.
The labelling system for dogs is a wonderful initiative. If more people appropriately labelled their dogs it would minimise the need to make risk assessments based on educated (or sometimes uneducated) guesses. Label your dog to help people see your dog for who they are.