Why can’t they greet each other friendly?


Many a time you would have noticed that when you take your dog out for a walk, he is friendly with certain dogs – but with certain dogs he pulls the leash, barks and gets angry. Why? Well, this is more related to the canine psychology, let’s see how.

Ask many dog parents and you will find that your dog is not the only one who lunges and barks at many dogs he passes on the street. Correcting the problem of barking and lungeing is only to deal with the symptoms and not dealing with what’s really going on and the underlying root of the problem. Understanding normal canine behaviour, your dog’s body language and calming signals, is so critical to understanding what’s going on with your dog and why he may be lungeing and barking.

Watch out your own body language

When we walk along the street with our dog at our side and see another dog coming our way, often we wind the lead in, making the lead tight and getting a good grip on it, in anticipation that our dog may start to lunge and bark. We become worried and sometimes panic a little. Our own behaviour is likely to send the message to our dog that we are afraid of the approaching dog, or perhaps he is dangerous. Either way the dog feels he needs to take action. Our dogs are so clever at picking up on our own body language.
An approaching dog – a threat?
Another reason your dog may be lungeing and barking is that he is afraid of many of the dogs approaching. There may be some dogs he can tolerate due to their body language, the distance between the dogs when passing and the action of either of the pet parents or dogs as they pass, but with many dogs he just cannot pass without a performance.
Many dogs (in my experience most dogs) cannot cope with passing one another on the streets, or even sometimes at some distance, because they are afraid.
Canine behaviour
Whatever the reason, dogs do not naturally approach one another head-on and for us to force one dog to pass another on a narrow pathway is placing the dog in a threatening and often very frightening position. In observing how dogs meet and greet one another, you will see that normal dog behaviour is to approach one another in a curve, curving around each other side-on (displaying many calming signals), a quick sniff and walk away.
Walking down a narrow pathway (especially on restricted equipment), the dogs are unable to take a wide curve around one another as they pass. Instead we force our dogs to be impolite and threatening by passing each other, often with no space or barriers between. The dogs are then placed in a threatening and frightening position with no choice and no way to escape but to pass the approaching dog head-on.
Barking and lungeing promote aggression
Every time the dog is given the opportunity to lunge and bark at other dogs, the behaviour is increased and may lead to aggression some time down the track, especially if other dogs sometimes retaliate when they feel threatened by your dog’s lungeing and barking at him.
Do’s and don’ts
It will be much less threatening for your dog if you avoid these situations. Here’s how you can avoid them:

  • There are always escape routes along streets, such as other streets you can turn down when you see another dog approaching.
  • You could also turn around and go back, cross the road, use barriers between the dogs such as trees, parked cars, other people you may be walking with and many other objects that may be able to help your dog when he is not coping with the situation.
  • Do not tighten the lead but keep it slack. Tightening the lead may send the message to your dog that the other dog approaching may be dangerous and therefore he should take action. Instead keep the lead slack, stay calm and take your dog away from the threat.
  • Walk your dog in a safe place where you are less likely to find other dogs or whatever may be frightening him – it may be in woodlands, a park, a meadow or a quiet street.
  • Keep him and yourself calm and allow him to sniff and explore on a long lead.

Your dog will learn to trust you if he knows you understand how he is feeling, recognise his body language and help him out.

(Nicole Mackie has over 14 years of experience in handling, exhibiting, training, observing, studying and sharing her life with dogs, gaining many qualifications such as canine behaviour, canine psychology, general animal science and experience veterinary nursing. She is a radio speaker and writer for magazines, works with behavioural problems in dogs and runs socialising groups for dogs with social problems.)