Do you have a dog who isn’t good meeting other dogs when on leash? If so, you’ll not be surprised that a recent blog post on how to stop uninvited dogs from approaching your own got 129 comments and reached 352,783 people on Facebook.
Wow. That’s compelling. In some ways, I’m not surprised. My Willie was terrified of other dogs as a puppy, (who knows why), and barked at them aggressively even if they were blocks away. That’s why I know exactly what it’s like to feel trapped and helpless when an unleashed dog runs toward yours. In a word: Awful.
But there’s a lot you can do to turn the tables in your favor. Here are some way to make walks fun again, instead of being events full of anxiety and suspense.
1. First things first, by working with your own dog. I know… if you could snap your fingers you would have solved the problem already, right? But there really is a LOT you can do: Teach your dog to “Watch,” or turn his head to you when there are no distractions, then when he is sniffing the scent of other dogs (but no dog visible), then when he can see another dog several blocks away. Eventually, work up to the other dog being closer and closer. You can learn all about this method in the booklet Feisty Fido and the DVD Treating Dog-Dog Reactivity. Yes, it takes some work but it turned Willie around, as it did hundreds of my client’s dogs.
2. Teach your dog some handy cues. It’s handy to have an “Emergency U–Turn” in your pocket if an unexpected dog shows up. Practice this like a fun game with no other dogs around, (Wheee! Lots of treats for turning fast!) then work up to using it when you spot an oncoming dog. It’s also wise to teach an “Emergency Sit/Stay.” Teach your dog to back up one stride behind you and stay there, while you pretend to deal with the approaching dog. As usual, start with no distractions, and gradually work up to asking for it when a well-behaved friend’s dog is present.
3. Sit down and construct a management plan that avoids surprise encounters. Stuff happens, but the more you can manage interactions until your dog is more comfortable the better. Consider the following:
4. Be prepared for off-leash dogs. The more helpless and trapped you feel, the worse your dog will behave. Here’s a list of things you can do:
5. Some things NOT to do:
Bottom Line: Don’t let yourself feel trapped and helpless, that just leads to fear and anger, and that rarely leads to a good result. Rather, think through what’s going on and arm yourself with skill, knowledge and a set of resources, whether it be books (try Feisty Fido), DVDs (Treating Dog-Dog Reactivity) and working with a progressive trainer.
Below is a reminder of what success looks like: This is Willie after having just greeted two new dogs, Maggie and Moose. Willie is appropriately avoiding tension by sniffing the ground, Moose has a lovely, relaxed face and Maggie looks bound and determined to get in one more sniff! It’s such a joy to not worry about him with other dogs now, I hope that describes you soon too.
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"The Education of Will delves deep into the minds of people and dogs, and into the effects of trauma, showing that healing is possible. McConnell gives a voice to those who can’t speak in words and provides hope for fearful animals everywhere."
—Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make Us Human and Animals in Translation.