Many dog trainers will agree that allowing strange dogs to meet on leash is a bad idea, but we see it all the time. I'm often with a client during a private training session and someone will pass with a leashed dog and ask if they can meet, or if the dog is friendly... and sadly often the approaching dog will be pulling, yelping, jumping to meet and the owner has little to no control which is exactly where things start to go wrong for many people and dogs.
When dogs are leashed they can feel trapped, they can't run away or move away and it can be incredibly scary especially when the strange dog approaching you appears to be out of control. Just imagine you are in a very small room (typical bathroom size) and suddenly the door opens and a 200 pound dog comes flying at you totally out of control.... what would your first reaction be? now lets pretend that the dog isn't out of control but hes approaching and you have no where to go... its a totally different feeling then being in an open area where you are free to move.
Lets try the same example with another person, a stranger. Put yourself in a common situation, an elevator, and think about the different feelings about the different strangers that come and go from the elevator. And were not talking about a forced introduction either, were just talking about being in close proximity to someone you don't know in a confined space. Some people may feel fine with strangers in the elevator and some people (myself included) will take the stairs whenever possible to avoid being in a confined space... strangers or not.
Its much the same with our dogs. Some can handle meeting strange dogs in an enclosed space all day long and feel no way about it, but often its makes them uncomfortable if only for the first few seconds. And still for others it can be a terrifying experience and all of a sudden you see a dog react with aggression that you have never seen before and it becomes an ongoing problem that started from good intentions
Bottom line is we don't know how your dog will react, and even if you have a good idea that your dog will react well you don't know how the strange dog will react. Meeting on leash is not a positive experience for the majority of dogs even though us humans like to think that they are meeting a "friend" its very different from your dogs point of view. Should a fight break out often the leashes can become tangled adding even more danger to an already stressful and dangerous moment.
Your dog doesn't need a social life with other dogs or people to be happy, your dog needs a social life with YOU and maybe a select few people and dog friends that they get along with, but setting your dog up to meet strange dogs during regular walks can be stressful at minimum and very dangerous and damaging should it go wrong. Keep this post in mind should you pass someone on your walk today who asks if their dog can "meet" your dog... a polite way to respond is to say that your dog is in training and if you want to meet then see if the other person is up for meeting at an enclosed area or walking parallel together so that the interaction is not forced.
Sarah McMurdo - Dog Trainer