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This weekend has been rich in experiences, both for me and for my dog (who is a puppy). As the weather finally improved, we met many more dogs at the park.

Experience 1
My dog was unleashed. I spotted another dog on the other side of the park that I had to cross and I put my dog back on leash. The other was unleashed. I came closer to the owner and I asked if I could let my dog approach his dog (the other dog was an adult and was not showing obvious fear or anger at that point). The guy said I should not and even asked me to move quickly as his "dog doesn't like other dogs". Apart from the fact that this doesn't make sense as he should then be the one putting his dog on leash, do you think we should not at least start approaching, and back off in case one of the dogs show signs of fear?

Experience 2
My dog and the other dog were leashed. My dog is always excited when he sees other dogs but then usually calms down when given the possibility to sniff the other dog (I think this is normal behaviour, especially with a young dog). There was a third dog around. I let him sniff him and at that point both owners could conclude that my dog should be OK. I then asked the other owner if I could approach, but the answer was, "no, they're on leash so they could get hurt". I don't think the leash is a real problem here: if they meet in a friendly manner, that's no problem; if they start fighting the leash could be of great help. Of course I agree that we should not let dogs play and get too excited when on leash as it could hurt their legs.

My question is should we have allowed the dogs to sniff and greet each other?

This has the potential to be opinion based, so I'm looking for evidence that one or the other would be better for the dogs.

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To address your specific question first... if the owner of the other dog thinks it isn't a good idea then it definitely isn't a good idea. It is very important to have dog socialization but they must be appropriate interactions. If the owner feels uncomfortable with the situation their dog will read into that and may also become uncomfortable. When you are thinking of letting your dog meet another dog take a look at the owner. If they don't seem relaxed, if they are holding the leash tightly, or if they don't have control of their dog then skip it... this isn't the one you want to take the chance on. If both the person and the dog seem relaxed, the dog is not pulling on the end of the leash to get to you, and the person says it is OK then it could be fine.

For the leash part of the question, there are many dogs that are leash aggressive so the concern the people showed may be that their dogs have some leash issues. Just because you didn't witness it at that moment doesn't mean that the dogs are always OK. The owners may have been very carefully managing the situation and you might not have even noticed. So, if they are worried... respect that and don't try to force the meeting. I noticed that you say "if they start fighting the leash could be a great help", that makes me think that you've had a couple experiences where you had leash fights. I would really encourage you to do a little more reading and watching some video's on dog body language... usually you can see a dog fight before it happens. Sometimes it happens to quickly but that might mean you rushed the evaluation part and didn't allow for enough time to get a real read on the dogs.

In general a good thing to remember is that you should be much more concerned with the quality of the dogs interactions more than just the frequency of them. One good interaction can be worth 20 so-so interactions and a bad interaction can end up in an injury or a dog that is then scared or aggressive toward other dogs. So if the people are worried then that is unlikely to turn into a great interaction and it's probably not worth the trouble. I know that it is fun to find great playmates for your puppy and, at times, it feels that we NEED them to get rid of energy but you do need to find the right kind of playmates.

There are several different types of puppy experiences that are going to be important.

One is playing with other puppies of similar age and reasonably similar size or play style. These interactions let the puppies practice all kinds of play-bow, meeting, running, wrestling, and bite inhibition that really are best for puppies to learn from each other and are typically pretty safe. Oh , and they get rid of each others puppy energy!

Another is learning how to interact with adult dogs. If you can find an APPROPRIATE adult dog these lessons teach the puppy good dog manners. But not all adult dogs are appropriate with puppies, many adult dogs find them pretty offensive. For instance it is bad manners to run up in another dogs face, lick their face/lips excessively, or be in general pushy the way puppies are. A good adult dog can correct the puppy without hurting them, the puppy will likely pout a little after this but will have learned that if they want to interact with other adult dogs they have to have some self-control and respect other dogs space. A really good adult dog will even play with a puppy but this too is a minority of the adult dogs.

Just as important as those experiences is learning that you don't get to greet every dog and that it isn't the puppies choice who it greets. I really like how the book "Control Unleashed" describes how to teach this. In the book she describes a system for teaching the dog that when they give you the attention instead of the other dog sometimes they are rewarded by getting to go say hi to the other dog. It works as a very nice natural reward system that rewards the dog with what they really want for doing what you really want. It is best if you can set up a time with a friend so that you can have control over when the release to go play happens and you can wait until the puppy gives you attention before they get the reward of play. It doesn't have to be a long drawn out thing... just a quick routine of letting you get the leash of while the puppy is still sitting is a great way to start. You can practice this many times during the play session, just call the puppy back to you and reward it for coming then get a sit, reward the sit, then say "go say hi" and let the puppy go back to playing. The puppy will quickly learn that coming to you is rewarding and that you even let them continue to play.

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Dogs should meet and play with other dogs as often as possible. This, however, should be in a location where dogs can go unleashed (like a city dog-park or something like that). Because it is no real play on the leash (how would they play "catch me, if you can"?). Playing with other dogs will make your dog happy, and give him the opportunity to work himself out, so that it will be more relaxed later.

Restricting contact with other dogs to zero level will most probably make your dog soziopathic.

That being said, you do yourself and your dog a favor in the long run when you don't allow play when your dog is on the leash. A young dog should learn that when on the leash it is expected to move along close to your leg, not to pull, and pay attention to your movements, and that is it.

Also, your dog should learn that it is you who decides. For example, suppose your dog is on the leash, and you see another dog owner coming near you. Then first, negotiate from a distance to leave the dogs loose. If there is agreement, let your dog "sit" or "down" while you unleash him. He must not pull while you do this (he must never pull, ok). If time allows, and the other dog is not already running towards you, he should also stay for a short moment, then give the command "Run!" (or whatever). This will teach your dog "impulse control" i.e., he can't just always do what he wants, but only when you allow it. For allowing it, you will be the greatest. But also, in a different situation, you can as well deny it, and your dog is then more likely to accept it.

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  • The answer is interesting but you specifically address the question of letting the dogs play, not just sniffing/greeting each other. So what about when the dogs are on leash? I agree with everything said, except that the dog can learn not to pull on leash, can learn a perfect "heel" walking on leash, but often we want a casual walk, and I might even stop and let him sniff something. So what if another dog is coming ? – Cedric H. Mar 10 '14 at 14:58
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    @cedric I think I was clear: no play, sniffing, etc. while on the leash. Believe me, it will pay off if you keep this iron rule. Just go ahead. Once you have a non-pullling dog, you can still relax the rule. Otherwise, you end up like those ppl. that are being pulled by their 30kg+ dogs towards the other side of the street, just because an intersting dog is walking there ... (this is, incidentally, also the reasons why smaller dogs seem to pull more than bigger ones: their owners used to think it is not critical, because they are still able to hold them. You can't do that with a bigger dog.) – Ingo Mar 10 '14 at 15:29

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