Why your dog doesn't greet politely

Your dog doesn’t have “ manners” with guests because you are asking them to do things they can’t do… yet.

Without realizing it you’re pushing your dog out of their comfort zone too fast. So how do you fix it?

You need to break your dog’s problem down into tiny baby steps with several repetitions at each stage. Your dog needs to go from being guided at each stage of the greeting to having complete freedom.

If you’re like most people, you’re probably giving your dog complete, off leash freedom when guests arrive. Dogs make really bad decisions with all that freedom, and it’s not entirely their fault because we haven’t held their hand and shown them what a proper greeting looks like.

Some dogs figure this polite greeting out on their own but you don’t have that dog. In fact, most people don’t and that’s ok. Your dog is having a hard time understanding proper greetings in a suburban environment but we can fix that with a kennel, a leash, some treats, and a bit of patient leadership.

Your guests are training your dog to keep being naughty. You need to coach your family and guests in order to get this issue handled.

Actions speak louder than words to your dog and to your guests. What you do physically as soon as guests walk in the door will make a night and day difference in how your dog and guests interact with each other!

Are your guests saying hi to your dog as soon as they walk in? If you don’t coach your guests properly your poor dog doesn’t have a chance!

People training is harder than dog training; certain family members are really good at making it awkward to set boundaries around greeting your dog. We all have that one guest who says: 

“It’s ok, dogs love me” or “oh it’s fine, I don’t mind jumping” or “oh she just wants some love, it’s ok. 

You need to know how to use distance properly to encourage and punish these well meaning but naughty humans without feeling awkward. I’ve developed a simple greeting routine over the years that works every time with everyone! Once you see how I do it you’ll feel silly you didn’t figure it out on your own.

What is the right level of freedom for your dog?

It depends on your dog, but for the naughtiest dogs we go through all the stages. Here they are in order of least amount of freedom on up to complete freedom:

  • Have your dog kenneled in a quiet room before answering the door 
  • Your dog is tethered to you on a leash
  • Your dog drags a leash as guests enter
  • Your dog is off leash but you have a leash close by in case you need it
  • Congrats! Your dog is now off leash and making good decisions on their own around guests. 

As I move through each stage my inner thoughts are something like this:

“Here’s your chance buddy. Let’s see if you can pull it off today.” 

When they succeed: “I’m so proud of you. That’s exactly what I was hoping you’d do!”

When they fail: “Hmmm, did I take the next step too fast? Or did I do something that made it more likely the dog would fail? Was there something around us that was stressing the dog out perhaps?”

We try again the next day. Usually I can find a mistake I was making or something in the environment that made the dog fail. 

I can’t blame the dog, I’m the one who is supposed to be guiding them through this challenge afterall. If you can’t figure out what is keeping your dog from getting to that next step, hire a trainer near you. We trainers dedicate our lives to helping dogs be their best selves, chances are we’ve seen a dog much naughtier than yours and were able to quickly help them improve.

What about when you’re on a walk and meet another dog? None of the above will really help you when you’re out and about. Here’s my 3 step process for fixing this.

Greeting Dogs Politely On Walks:

  1. Don’t greet other dogs
  2. Don’t greet other dogs
  3. Don’t greet other dogs

I know, I’m so mean. Believe me, there’s nothing I love more than seeing dogs happy and making new friends, but here’s what I’ve learned over the years:

On leash greetings cause problems! In the best case scenario they cause frustration, in the worst case they cause trauma. 

Let me explain:

With my first dog, Butters, I wanted him to be really social so if anyone asked if their dog could meet him I’d say yes. 

More interactions = more social confidence… right? WRONG!

I turned my happy go lucky pup into a bit of a ball of nerves. Most dogs you’ll run into on a walk hate puppies, at least random puppies. Many will tolerate your puppy but most of them are not enjoying the interaction, this goes for older dogs too by the way.

Butters got nipped at several times, growled at many more, and barked at more than that (I’m a slow learner). Finally, I realized I was hurting not helping his social anxiety and stopped these interactions forever. For greetings that will improve your dog’s social confidence, bring them to our daycare for socialization or set up puppy play dates with well behaved dogs your friends and family have. That is a far better strategy. 

When on the walk your goal should be to have your dog stay in a loose heel as you pass other dogs. That’s it! If you can pass any dog (who isn’t acting crazy) and your dog will just check them out, and then move on with the walk, congratulations you’ve made it in my book!

On leash greetings should be avoided because the absolute best case scenario is:

Frustration from being tethered to you. They can’t play because they keep hitting the end of those stupid leashes.

Worst case scenario:

There’s a fight.

So on a scale from frustrated to traumatized I’ll take…. A hard pass!

The people being dragged by their dog to me would ask, “can my dog meet your dog? We’re working on socialization”. They were well intentioned, but they were approaching it all wrong! Alarm bells should have been going off, but I was just as naive so I’d say “ok”. 

Here’s what my poor dog learned:

“My dad isn’t real bright. He keeps getting us into situations where I could get bitten, and I’m tethered to him. I’m not sure what to do…”

Dogs respond to these awkward encounters in different ways. Some handle it amazingly well but many become leash reactive or develop some weird quirk to help them cope with it. 

Butters began whimpering and licking a lot. He would lick quickly and repeatedly as if to tell the dog he wanted no trouble and wasn’t a threat; this worked sometimes but other times it set the other dog off.

Long story short, I don’t do this anymore with my dogs or any customer’s dogs. Socialize your dog on off leash hikes (when you can trust them to obey off leash), during puppy play dates or at our structured daycare classes. These spaces are far more likely to end in positive results; you want a dog with high social confidence and awareness.

Fixing Reactivity On Walks

  1. Find your dog’s bubble (the distance from a distraction your dog can be and still keep their cool)
  2. Train your dog in the bubble until it gets smaller
  3. Push to find the new edge of that bubble every few sessions
  4. Have reasonable expectations. Every dog is different. How good your dog can become depends on your dog’s personality and your level of commitment. Talk with your trainer about what is a reasonable goal for you and your dog.

What To Do Inside The Bubble:

  1. Use treats – reward and distract your dog as distractions pass. Use your dog’s favorite treats only during training for best results. There’s a few different ways to approach this so your trainer will be your best resource here.
  2. Use toys – reward and distract your dog using play. How to play inside the bubble is a longer conversation we’ll need to have, so book a call when you’re ready.
  3. Use praise – praise for good responses! Some dogs need a gentle whisper and others need an excited voice. Your trainer can help you pick the right approach for your dog.
  4. Use distance. Show your dog you are aware of how they are feeling by moving further away from distractions as soon as their body becomes tense and/or alert.

Side note: I almost always allow dogs to look at the distraction but help them break any stares. Glances and checking in are healthy, staring is not.

Phew… that was a lot of info! I hope you’re feeling a little overwhelmed because there is a lot going on when you and your dog greet other dog’s and people. If you’re facing challenges with dog greetings, it may be time to consider a dog behavior boot camp in Salt Lake City. Our specialized programs addresses dog greeting problems and provides effective techniques to help your dog navigate social interactions.

I hope this helped you understand a bit more what is going on and how to get to the next stage.

When you’re ready to fix this problem here’s how we can help:

Book a call – tell us about your dog and we’ll suggest a program based on your dog’s needs and your goals for them.

Boarding School – fast track your dog’s progress and have our professional trainers do the heavy lifting.

Student Subscription – get daily help by enrolling your dog in our day training program.