Ok so you are walking down the street with your best, four-legged friend beside you and you have been concentrating on being a great leader for him/her and so far everything is going great. Then down the path approaches another proud owner with their best, four-legged friend and as the space between the both of you gets smaller you make a choice on what to do next…
Do you –
a) Take a punt that everything will be alright, your dog has never hurt another dog so you let them sniff and say hello.
b) Call out to the owner “Is your dog ok with dogs? Can they say hello?” Then precede in the good faith that the other owner has full control of their dog.
c) Decide that “My dog is fine with large dogs” I’ll let them sniff and say hello.
d) Freak out”My dog hates large dogs” and get away from the oncoming threat as fast as possible.
e) Put yourself between you and the oncoming dog, moving over for maximum space and thus a safe passage through, being ready to physically intervene if there is any hiccup along the way.
f) Phone a friend?
All of the above responses are valid however they are really based on guess work and opinions of how well behaved we think our own dog is and how much control the other owner has over their dog. This post is designed to take the gamble and stress out of your daily dog walks.
It is really important that we in the dog owning community become more attuned to what it is dogs are communicating to us and each other AND what we are communicating to them! Not all dogs have the exact same physical attributes however there are some general tips that are very useful.
We do not advise you to approach a dog if it is demonstrating a stiff body, tail very high (wagging or not) eyes locked intensely on your dog, forehead is wrinkled forward, ears moved forward and breathing stopped. This dog in a super alert state it is ready to strike if need be. If your dog makes a move that it doesn’t like it could very well get triggered and lunge in attack. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the other dog is aggressive and a danger to society however we recommend in this instance to give yourself and your dog some space so that you are confident that you are safe. You may want to communicate with the owner that you are just getting some space to allow them to pass.
If the other dog is pulling forward at the end of the lead and is bounding as fast as it can at your dog in excitement, we also don’t recommend you have them say hello immediately. The first reason being that there is a lack of owner leadership present as the dog is determining where it goes and at it’s chosen speed. Essentially the dog in that pack is the leader and the owner is the follower. If there is a lack of leadership in the pack there is often instability and an unbalanced dog leading the pack can be very unpredictable. In this instance you may request from the other owner to stop and wait until both dogs calm down before allowing them to say hello. You could also just pass calmly at a safe distance.
When we do allow our dogs to sniff each other and say hello it is generally a reward for our dog and remember that whenever we reward our dog we nurture the state of mind that our dog is in, in that given moment. Whenever we reward our dog we are basically saying I like and accept your state so keep doing it!
We reward our dogs when they are demonstrating a calm submissive state and this includes when they are around other dogs. Before we allow our dogs to say hello they must have a loose and relaxed body, it is great if they are engaging their nose and showing interest in the other dog, their breathing is calm and regular and they are waiting calmly for us to command or bring them more closely to the other dog.
If your dog naturally gets excited at the site of other dogs the best thing to do is calmly wait and chat with the other owner until both dogs relax and are demonstrating the desired, calm state. In most cases this can be just a minute or two before both dogs have relaxed.
When having your dog approach another take it slowly and confidently, be present to the state that your dog is in at all times. If the dogs are getting over excited or are stiffening up, slow it down, correct and/or take a step back again to get some space. If you tend to get a little nervous at times remember you are the one that calls the shots, take a deep breath and take your time. Communicate clearly to your dog that you will only reward the calm, submissive state.
When allowing your dog to approach we highly recommend that you guide your dog to sniff the rear of the other and vice versa. When dogs sniff each other front on it is a more conflicting and confronting position and the energy can shift quickly from friendly to a challenge and some dogs stiffen up immediately when approached this way. The sniffing of the rear is a more natural and balanced way for dogs to approach, however don’t then allow one dog to dominate in this position, abruptly push their nose in for an up close inspection or mount the other as this is poor manners and can change things also.
To recap we only want to reward calm, peaceful behaviour, so it works to only have your dog get the reward of sniffing another when it is demonstrating this state. Take things slowly, read the dogs’ body language at all times and check that you are relaxed and confident. Make sure both dogs are demonstrating ‘good manners’ not allowing one to dominate the other or approach too abruptly and intensely.
We humans don’t go up to complete strangers abruptly and give them a big hug and sloppy kiss at the first chance, generally we use our manners and etiquette and that has us feeling more safe and confident. When we lead our dogs confidently, we provide for our dogs’ needs and that has them feeling safe and secure.