How To Control Puppy Excited Greetings On Walks

It’s embarrassing.  You are walking your puppy when you stumble upon a stranger, or even worse, another dog.  All your training goes out the window when your puppy goes airborne and tries to pull toward the stimuli to say hello.  This blog addresses how to reduce that behavior to a bare minimum.

Getting your puppy to stop the above behavior requires a “full-court press” approach to training.  It’s not just one thing you have to do, but many different things, some at the time of the incident, some of it done with exercise, and some of it done with training.

First, let’s discuss training.  There are several commands that your pup needs to learn before having successful on-walk greetings.  The obvious ones are sit, down, stay, off and leave it, but perhaps one of the most important commands is “settle”.  I have a full blog devoted to this command – just use the search bar on the home page to find it.  “Settle”, when trained correctly, will actually get your puppy to calm down a bit when commanded.  It’s not going to take a crazy pup and turn her into a submissive sleepyhead, but it will take her excitement down a notch, perhaps enough to get other important commands through to her in her excited state.  Another important command is “look”.  By teaching your puppy to look at your eyes on command, you will more easily get her to listen to your next important words, such as sit, or stay, or off.  Lastly, I would teach your puppy the “quiet” command, because most likely, she will bark when excited and this gives you a command to stop that.

Next, there is exercise.  I cannot overstate the importance of a good half hour of panting prior to taking your puppy out on a walk.  A vigorous game of fetch or tug o’ war will help burn off that pent-up energy, perhaps enough to get her to focus on you when the greeting happens.   At a minimum, your puppy will just have less in the tank to jump and go nuts.

Putting it all together with training and pre-walk exercise, I would recommend the right gear for the walks.  The Petsafe Easy Walk, No-Pull harness is a great choice.  It does what it says, reducing the pulling and lunging by using a Martingale-style connector to the front of the harness.  The other important items are a sturdy 6-foot leash high-value treats.  DO NOT use a retractable leash as it provides little control over your pup.

So you are walking along when you see in the distance a person walking a dog coming toward you. Let’s assume that you choose to do a brief greeting with this dog and that the owner of the other dog is OK with it.  As you approach the dog, your pup will inevitably cross her threshold of reactivity – the point at which your puppy goes from calm to, well, not calm.  Ideally, the right thing to do would be to stay beyond threshold and keep your pup calm for a few minutes before getting closer.  Once your cross the threshold, you should stop again and have your puppy sit until calm and then approach again.  But for the purpose of this blog, let’s assume that you are within sniffing distance of the other dog, and your puppy is going nuts.

If/when this happens, step on the leash so that there is very little slack between your foot and your puppy’s harness connection.  This will automatically stop the jumping and lunging.  Your pup may bark, whine, keep trying to jump, or all of the above.  Use everything in your arsenal at this point to help your puppy calm down and listen to you prior to getting into greeting distance with the other dog.  Assume you have asked the owner of the other dog to wait a sec while your puppy calms down and he agrees to wait.  If your pup barks, use the “quiet” command.  If she jumps, use “off”.  Every time she stops barking for 3 seconds, mark it (say “yes!”) and reward, every time she resigns from jumping, mark it and reward.  Simultaneously, you should be using “look” followed by “settle” followed by “sit” and “stay”.  Reward reward reward.  Assume after a minute or so your pup calms down.  Take your foot off the leash and try to see if your pup can calmly greet the other dog.  If your pup jumps, lunges, barks or whines, pull her a few feet away from the other dog, step on the leash and rinse and repeat with the above steps.  Eventually, your pup will calmly interact with the other dog, though it may take many iterations of the above steps.

We are obviously making a lot of assumptions.  In the real world, it won’t be this perfect and all hell might break loose.  In this case, tell your pup “leave it!” and say goodbye and get out of dodge to try another day.

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