I must hear this at least once a week.
And it is usually when an off-lead dog is coming running over to me and completely ignoring his owner!!!
But it’s not OK, and it doesn’t matter if he is friendly or not.
I work with a lot of dogs that are scared of other dogs. For various reasons other dogs are very frightening for them. This is regardless of whether the dog running over is friendly or not. It doesn’t matter what breed it is, or if it’s just a puppy, or if it is coming bowling over at the end of an extendable lead. The dogs that I work with are terrified of all dogs of all kinds.
When dogs are scared of other dogs they will do one of two things – they will run away (flight) or they will bark and lunge (fight). Because we are walking our dogs on lead they try the flight option, realise they can’t run away, and so are forced into fight.
So that dog that is barking and lunging and generally looking really vicious to the friendly dog that is ‘just running over to say hello’ is doing so because he genuinely believes that if he doesn’t, the friendly dog is going to hurt him badly.
To give you an example, I’m not a huge fan of spiders. I wouldn’t want a spider right in my face. If someone tells me that it’s a friendly spider, I don’t care, I still don’t want it in my face! And if it starts running towards me really fast and I am tied to something and can’t get away I may just freak out a bit. And it doesn’t matter how big or small it is, or what kind of spider. I just don’t want a spider in my face!
Now lets say as the spider is coming towards me I start to scream and wave my arms around, and lets say that the spider doesn’t like that and backs off. PHEW! What a relief! I will feel a lot better, and I will certainly scream and wave my arms around next time I see a spider in the hope that the spider will back off again! (By the way, I don’t scream at or wave my arms at spiders, if I am feeling brave I gently put them in a cup and move them outside, if I’m not feeling brave I ask someone else to!)
Luckily, we understand learning theory and we can teach our dogs not to be scared of other dogs, and we can teach me not to be scared of spiders (I’m getting better – see cup note above – go me!)
There are two main steps to teaching a dog not to be scared of other dogs, and the first one is to prevent him for being in a situation where he is scared. And this is the trickiest bit.
We need to be far enough away from the other dog that my dog can relax and learn for himself that that other dog over there isn’t actually going to pay any attention to him at all. And we as owners need to keep other dogs away from our dogs so that they trust us to keep them safe. Only then when they are relaxed and happy can they start learning anything new.
I don’t learn new things well when I am stressed or distracted, and nor do our dogs.
So if you meet me or one of my walkers out on a walk and I ask you if you can give us some space, please don’t take offence. And please think twice about letting your dog no matter how friendly, run over to a dog without checking with its owner that its ok first of all.
And if you are the owner at the other end of the lead of the barky lunging dog, get in touch. You are not alone! I am working with several clients at the moment in your exact same situation, and we have a lovely welcoming supportive group called the Barky Bunch Club where we meet for classes and offer support on our online community.
For further details let me know, and in Part Two we will talk about what to do if you do have a friendly dog!