Dog Walking Etiquette

As the owner of an elderly dog who doesn’t like unfamiliar dogs in her space anymore and the challenges that can bring , I thought I’d write a blog on dog walking etiquette.

It’s hard being the owner of a reactive dog. You feel on constant high alert watching out for other dogs which may cause your dog to get anxious or frustrated. If you have a dog like this, the best piece of advice I can give is to work with a qualified behaviourist or trainer to help identify what triggers your dogs reactivity and put training plans and management methods in place to help you and your dog be more confident when these situations arise.

Always ensure the trainer uses positive reinforcement training methods only.  Punitive training will only exacerbate the issue.

Some training methods may involve desensitisation and counter conditioning to other dogs, through good things happening such as a game or tasty treats when dogs are approaching, this starts to teach your dog that other dogs being around is a positive thing rather than a negative.  This training should start with the other dog at a distance your dog feels comfortable at, don’t rush it.  You can also try management tactics such as the U-Turn to move you dog away from a difficult situation before it escalates or a game of ‘Find it’ where you throw a handful of treats on the ground for the dog to sniff out, hence distracting them from other dogs in their vicinity while they pass. You should also teach you dog to have eye contact with you which again is a great way to distract them if necessary.

Generally dogs that are feeling fearful will try one of three approaches, flight, fight or freeze.  If they are on a lead then the flight option is removed which is why so many dogs have no option but to show aggression when on the lead to warn other dogs away.   The fact that us humans then naturally feel anxious often makes things worse for the dog as they can sense your tension.  Try and keep calm.

If your dog is reactive on the lead but not off then this is generally due to frustration at not being able to say hello. If they have a reliable recall then you should consider letting them off the lead on walks (where it is safe to do so) to help ease anxiety.  However if you aren’t confident in their recall you should keep them on lead.

You can use a muzzle if you feel it necessary or purchase a yellow coat or lead with says ‘I need space’ to communicate to other dog owners your dog doesn’t like to be approached.   Look up The Yellow Dog Project for more information on this.  If you do introduce a muzzle to your dog, please use positive association methods to ensure your dog is comfortable wearing it.  Smearing tasty food like squeezy cheese or liver paste inside and slowly placing onto your dogs face will help this.  There are lots of videos on YouTube to show you what to do.

If you see a dog on a lead…

If your dog is happy enough to approach other dogs on or off the lead please be aware that not all dogs are like that!  If you see a dog approaching that is on the lead, muzzled or wearing something that indicates it is anxious please be a responsible dog owner and call you dog back to you so that it is under control while you pass by.  For any dog owner with an anxious or fear reactive dog there is nothing more likely to heighten the issue than a dog coming straight towards you with the owner oblivious to the signals you are giving out!

Finally also remember the wildlife and livestock in the country which need protecting.  DO NOT let your dog off the lead if there is any risk they could harm other species.