You’re out walking with your dog off the lead, when another dog comes into sight. Your pooch makes an instant bee-line for the other hound and you shout over ‘don’t worry, they’re friendly’. Sound familiar? What you may not know, is your friendly dog, could be a problem.
It’s a situation many of you will have been in time and again. And you’re probably wondering how your lovely dog could be a problem. But for those of us on the other side of that scenario, it can be a difficult and frustrating time. And for our dogs, a scary and anxious one.
So, why might there be a problem? Well, there are multiple reasons but the simple answer is, not all dogs are happy with this situation. Especially nervous dogs. The fact is, that not all dogs ‘get on’. Ask yourself, are you instant friends with everyone you pass in the street? If you ran up to a stranger and gave them a hug, how do you think that would go? Not so well, right? So, why are dogs any different? The truth is they’re not.
And for those of us who’ve taken on a rescue dog, it can be a daily nightmare. Random dogs rushing uncontrollably up to our nervous hound. Us searching for sight of the owner and shouting ‘Please can you recall your dog!’, only to be met with ‘Don’t worry they’re friendly’ and of course by the time we’ve manged to say ‘Yes, but our dogs nervous’, it’s already too late and your dog has unwittingly run into trouble.
What you may often see next is a dog barking angrily or nipping your dog. And it’s likely you’ve looked annoyed or made a comment. What you don’t see is the upset you’ve caused the other dog and its owner.
Understanding the situation
For many nervous dogs, they’ll have given off signals to say they don’t want to be approached, but your dog hasn’t understood them. This has forced the nervous dog to resort to stronger signals which include making noise and nipping. It’s not aggression. This is their way of defending themselves, because your dog is a threat. For that nervous dog, this is an upsetting time and it can set their training and rehabilitation back. For the owner, it’s heart-breaking to see.
And you may ask, why doesn’t that owner do more to control the dog? Well, we are. You just don’t see it.
Firstly, that’s why our dog is on a lead. When out with a nervous dog, we’ll use distraction methods or ‘games’ to try to turn their attention away from another dog. But this can only work if that other dog is under control and not in their space. And a nervous dog doesn’t become ok with other dogs overnight. It’s a long process, which gets longer every time something bad happens.
It does help to know the signs of a nervous dog and you may see them wearing a yellow vest or on a luminous yellow lead. The owner may be wearing a training pouch and interacting heavily with the dog. But it’s not always this obvious. And it’s not simply nervous dogs that can be an issue. You should be aware of puppies, dogs with illnesses and older dogs that need their space too. And these are not always easy to spot, but they can be equally uncomfortable with your dog bounding up.
How you can help
So, here’s how you can help dog owners like us.
- Always be aware of where your dog is and what they’re doing. As soon as you see another dog, recall your dog straight away. Don’t assume that every dog is happy to meet your dog.
- Never let your dog off the lead unless you are confident you can recall your dog. So, when you see another dog walker approaching you can actually recall your dog. Be aware that your dog may come back to you when there are no other distractions, but not when there’s something more interesting to check out. Practise recall in different places, so your dog doesn’t just come back in a set situation. Get a friend to help act as the ‘distraction’ and see if you can still recall your dog.
- Make sure your dog is properly socialised. If your dog loves rushing up to another dog ‘nose-to-nose’ this can cause problems. Nose to tail is the polite way for dogs to meet. And properly conducted introductions are best. Nose-to-nose can be seen by other dogs as a challenge or aggression.
- A well socialised dog will be able to read another dog’s body language. And so should you. If a dog suddenly stiffens up, stays still and stares, this is often the first sign they don’t want to be approached. It’s surprising how many dogs and owners can’t read body language or get it wrong. Equally, if a dog is pulling towards another dog, that’s not simply a case of wanting to meet. This is frequently a sign of a nervous dog. And a wagging tail? It’s not always a sign of happiness. Our dog wags her tail to say there’s something here, and that something isn’t always good.
- Positively engage with other dog walkers and get to know them, rather than make assumptions. I’ve gone home in tears after angrily being told that my dog is vicious for nipping a dog (Poppy was on a lead, they couldn’t recall their dog). I often get ‘helpful’ comments such as ‘Why don’t you just let her off the lead, that’s the problem’ (It really isn’t). And, ‘what’s wrong with your dog?’ To which I’m forced to defend the fact that humans gave Poppy a bad start in life and we’re working with her to make things better.
- If you’re struggling with recall or training, ask for help. Professional trainers and behaviourists can assess your own needs and work with you. They’re not there to criticise but help give both you and your dog the tools you need to improve recall and your bond together.
A happier time
All of this may come as a bit of a shock to you. But it’s not meant as a criticism at all. When we first got Poppy, we made similar mistakes (and of course we’re still learning all the time). I simply want to spread the knowledge I have now and make walkies great for everyone.
I’m writing this after reading so many upsetting stories from other dog owners who are going through the same things as we have (and still do). Because I don’t want other people going home in tears like I have. And most importantly, because it’s not fair on the dogs we love dearly.
The more people understand it’s a problem, the more we can reduce these situations and create a happier, friendly community of dog owners and walkers. So, if this sounds familiar to you, please do help us out.