For many people, walking their dog is a form of exercise, maybe an excuse to get out of the house or just bonding time with your pooch. Typically your average, seemingly friendly dog owner’s thought process on a walk may look like this:
“I love taking my dog out for a walk, it’s a great opportunity for him to sniff around at everything, do his business and possibly meet new friends! We use a harness for him so that it doesn’t hurt his neck too much when he pulls. He looovesss walking! He pulls a little, but that’s perfectly normal. How could I expect him not to pull towards something he wants to sniff or when he needs to go to the bathroom? Especially when there’s another dog he wants to say hi to! He’s so cute when he barks at another dog he wants to play with across the street. He just wants to be friends with everyone! Oh, and right back to sniffing he goes. I feel like we’ve stopped 100 times for him to sniff, but he needs to, and he might have to use the bathroom again. He’s really pulling towards something this time! Of course, he was! He found another dog to say hi too! Yay, time to make some new friends! Their dog seems perfectly friendly too! This will be great! Aw, they’re both wagging their tails! They love each other! *snarl and snap from the other dog* Oh my goodness! That dog is aggressive! I can’t believe someone with an aggressive dog would be around other dogs and people! That is completely irresponsible, let alone letting my dog get snapped at like that!”
This scenario is something that we see all too often, and for those with a friendly dog, I cannot blame you for your thinking.
Before I go into more detail, let me walk you through that same scenario from the other dog owner’s perspective. This owner has a dog where they are working on training a behavior. Whether it is just practicing walking nicely in public, or a more severe reactive behavior, the thought process for this owner would look something like this:
“Ok, we’ve been working on this together. Fingers crossed! Hopefully, we don’t run into any hard distractions. He’s pretty focused so far. Everything is looking great! Oh, someone’s walking towards us with another dog already. Ok. We can do this. Let’s just cross the street to try and avoid a reaction towards them. Phew! That went well, thankfully. Fido’s doing great! Good boy! I’m so glad that person gave us some space. Now might be a good time to let him sniff and use the bathroom. He followed a few scents and did his business. Alright, right back to walking now. Wow, another person already! This person doesn’t seem to have much control over their dog as they follow him marching right towards us. The pressure is building and I’m wondering how I can possibly stop this person with their crazy puppy barreling directly towards us. “Please give us some space, we’re working on training…” It’s as if this owner doesn’t even see me. All they see is my dog, and how much their dog wants to be over here. This is exactly what I wanted to avoid. The closer they get, the less at ease my dog seems to get. This owner has no idea that my dog is nowhere near as excited about this interaction as his is. Or that his dog could be in potential danger by approaching mine.”
I decided to write this blog because many times, no matter the subject, we tend to think according to what we have experienced in our own lives. This is perfectly normal but can cause a lot of discomfort for people in other situations.
If you grew up with several friendly family dogs that loved every person and dog they ever met, it would make perfect sense for you to assume many dogs would be similar. Many times you could be right, too.
However, when someone finds that their perfect family dog has reactivity issues, it can significantly change someone’s paradigm. My best advice to you, reader, is to always, always, ask first before approaching a dog and especially with your dog. “Is it alright to say hello?” “Is it alright for my dog to say hi?” Just this common courtesy will go a long way. Also, you are giving that person a fair chance to say no.Always ask first before approaching a dog - especially with your dog in toe. Click To Tweet
There are several reasons why someone may want to engage in an interaction with you or another dog. Most times, people aren’t just saying no out of spite. Typically, it will have to do with them trying to train their dog. It also does not always mean that person’s dog is unfriendly. A walk can provide critical bonding time for owner and dog. Many owners want to work on a connection to their dog on a walk and not having their dog react towards different distractions.
However, for those owners who have come to realize their dog needs a little more work than normal , training their dog can feel as if they are up against the world. I want to make an analogy to something that may be a sensitive topic to some, but I really want this to hit home. Imagine finding out you have a child with special needs. Wouldn’t you do everything in your power to make the world understand and do anything they can to help?
I’d expect anyone’s answer here to be yes. This is the feeling many people can relate to if their dog becomes highly reactive seemingly out of nowhere. They don’t know what to do, and many things they once did with their dog now seem to present a challenge. Many times they will seek out training and do their very best to help their dog get back to a stable state of mind. During this process, though, simple walks prove to be very stressful when most people assume their “friendly” dogs can go about anywhere they like.
So to you, owners with friendly dogs, you are so lucky! We adore your sweet, loving pooch just as much as you do, and if we weren’t accompanied by our dogs at the moment, we would probably fawn over your dog just as much as the next. Please, give us the chance to stand up for our dogs. They’re scared! Aggression, 9 times out of 10, is fear-based. We are attempting to make them feel as comfortable as possible in regular situations, just like your dog is!
So again I say, always ask before approaching a dog, whether it is just you or you are with your dog. It is a very simple thing that can prevent many awkward or even unfortunate scenarios from playing out. In the end, we all just want to bond and exercise our dogs as peacefully as possible.
Help your dog, help my dog.