Teach your puppy appropriate greetings on leash

By Emily Larlham

I learned this method from my mentor Kyle Rayon.  I find it to be the most effective technique for teaching your puppy to greet other dogs calmly and appropriately on leash.

First you will need to teach your puppy a cue meaning “move with me”.  I like to use the phrase “Let’s go.”  With your puppy on a leash and a harness, walk forwards and then turn in the opposite direction.  Pat your leg, make a kissy noise, and try to get your puppy to turn towards you.  Click or say “yes” for your puppy turning to move with you on his own.  Once you have achieved this 3 times in a row, you can add your cue.  Walk forwards and then turn in the opposite direction saying “Let’s go” and then encourage your puppy to come with you.  Click and reinforce your puppy for coming with you.  If your puppy is reliably turning with you, simply turn, say “Let’s go” and wait until your puppy turns with you without visual or verbal encouragement; then click or say “yes”.  You can then proof this behavior (before you use it when training calm greetings on leash) by putting distractions down on the ground for your puppy to turn away from and come back to you.  Have a friend put some treats down on the ground out of reach of your puppy.  Say “Let’s go” and click if your puppy moves with you.  If your puppy does not, simply move in the other direction and click your puppy for turning to come with you when he feels the leash become tense.  If your puppy cannot turn away from the distraction, move further away, or use a less exciting distraction.  You want to set your puppy up for success and make moving with you the best choice.  If, surprisingly, you find that your puppy does not want to move towards the distractions, this is a good thing!  It means that the puppy is learning impulse control.  What you don’t want is that the puppy moves with you and then immediately lunges back towards the distraction.  To stop this from happening, make sure to reinforce your puppy not just for turning to come with you but also staying with you and being at your side as you move away from the distraction.

Once you have practiced “Let’s go” and proofed the cue in your house, on walks, and away from multiple distractions you can move on to using it for training your puppy to greet other puppies calmly when on leash.

Set up a training session with a friend with another puppy or an adult dog who  is safe and friendly with puppies.  Ask your puppy for a behavior he knows- like eye contact or a sit while on a loose leash- and click and treat if the puppy succeeds (if you don’t have a clicker simply say “yes” and feed a treat).  Then say “Okay, go say hi” in a calm voice.  Let the dogs meet for just a second, before anything over-excited can happen say “Let’s go!” and move in opposite directions from each other.  Click or simply feed the dogs AWAY from each other (never feed your puppy or another dog with their face near another dog unless you have worked on it as they might go after each other if they guard food).   Make sure your dogs are in harnesses attached to the leashes, so that if the dogs do not turn to you when you say “Let’s go”, you can move in the opposite direction, holding the leash against your body so as not to jerk or hurt your dog as you move back and away.  The idea of this exercise is to set the puppy up for success.  You will be teaching the puppy that the cue “Okay, go say hi” means sniffing, wagging, and chilling with the other dog rather than playing on leash (which can sometimes end in over-excitement, frustration, and aggression).

Repeat the first step multiple times until both dogs can turn away from each other when you say the cue.  You will find them less reluctant to turn once they realize that it does not mean they will not get to see the other dog again.  The more repetitions you do, the more successful calm greetings you can capture and make reinforcing for your dog.

The next step is increasing the length of time that the dogs meet.  If at any time your puppy or the other dog gets too excited, you simply have to say “Let’s go” and move away.  After a couple of lessons of greeting different dogs, you can start to make meeting the other dog the reward for eye contact or calmly walking on a loose leash, instead of clicking and feeding a treat before releasing your puppy to say hello.  You will be rewarding the behavior you like with permission to meet the other dog.

If you simply let puppies meet on leash and “see what happens,” they might never think to do it in a calm way without guidance from their handlers.  A tiny puppy looks cute scrambling towards another dog on leash wagging and whining with excitement, but it is not so cute in 6 months when that dog is a 100-pound German Shepherd hauling you after him.

If you ask your puppy for eye contact or a sit and the puppy cannot do it, then what you are asking for is simply too hard.  Don’t click and don’t release your puppy to meet the other dog.  If you do so, this will teach your puppy that the best thing to do to get what he wants is to ignore you.  Instead, turn around and, without jerking the puppy, walk further away to see if the puppy can listen to you further away from the distraction.   If you have a really distracted puppy and distance doesn’t help make the exercise easier, you can try to get the dog to follow a lure to sit.  This can be the first way that your puppy learns the concept that if he does what you ask, he gets to do what he wants.  At first, some puppies truly won’t believe that listening to you could possibly work to gain access to greeting another dog.  As a result, they will try everything they can to get what they want on their own!  By being patient and consistent, and never rewarding your puppy by letting him meet another dog for ignoring you, pulling on leash and being over-excited, you will save yourself a lot of stress and training down the line when your puppy gets older.

You can teach your puppy or dog another cue, “Go play,” to mean that your puppy is free to play off leash.  The cue, “Okay, go say hi,” should remain a release cue for a calm greeting on leash.

Tip: Set your puppy up for success by using a calm slow voice for “Okay, go say hi” and a more excitable voice for “Go play!”

Another tip: For play sessions you can use the same protocol.  Let the dogs play for 1 second, then call them back; then let them play for 3 seconds and call them back.  Then increase the time the dogs play.  Call the dogs back any time you see them getting over-excited or doing behaviors you do not like (like humping and overly rough play).  By doing this you will reinforce only the type of play you wish your puppy to be doing and prevent the puppies from learning to become too aroused or play rough.  I trained my Border Collie Splash to play with my little dogs by interrupting any play during which she actually would touch them.  As a result, Splash only plays “I chase you, you chase me” games with my little dogs, who never run the risk of getting hurt.


25 dog and puppy training tips25 Dog and Puppy Training Tips:
For each month of the year, I will release 2 training tips that will be accessible for free at dogmantics.com.  If you simply cannot wait for the information to be published online, you can buy the collection of all 25 training tips in an ebook format here: 25 Dog and Puppy Training Tips

This is a list of all the tips included in the ebook, and that will be eventually available online:

  1. Teaching a dog previously kept outside to be calm inside the house
  2. The problem with ignoring unwanted behaviors
  3. Fading a lure
  4. Adding a verbal cue or changing a cue
  5. Dogs and babies
  6. Socializing tips- Our world can be a scary place!
  7. What to do if your puppy bites you OUTSIDE of a training session
  8. Changing your thinking from “I don’t like” to “I need to work on”
  9. What to use as reinforcement
  10. Treat deliveries
  11. Teaching your puppy appropriate greetings on leash
  12. Teaching “All done” for training sessions and dinnertime manners
  13. Variety is the spice of life… and training!
  14. Teaching your puppy to walk off leash
  15. Don’t let your dog free feed
  16. Don’t only work on one behavior at a time
  17. Separation training tips
  18. Monkey see, monkey do- Take advantage of social facilitation
  19. Always remember to release your dog!
  20. The importance of handling
  21. Chewing
  22. Teaching “Drop” and “Get it”
  23. What to do if your puppy sits and refuses to budge on a walk
  24. Generalizing
  25. Training your dog to do absolutely… NOTHING!

Happy Training!