I was walking my dogs around our apartment complex when I saw the woman with the black pug approaching. I quickly turned around before my dogs saw hers and vice versa and created a ruckus. I was stunned when she ran after us, her dog barking and snarling all the way, stopped close to my now barking and snarling dogs, and asked, “Are they friendly?”
“No!” I replied, as I pulled my dogs away.
That’s not exactly true, but it worked to get us out of the situation. Outside our complex, my dogs ignore others because they aren’t patrolling “their” territory. Inside it, however, they view other dogs as unwelcome invaders, so I keep an eagle eye out for people walking their dogs and do my best to avoid them.
Lots of people, such as my neighbor, want their dogs to meet and greet other people and dogs, but for many dog owners, that’s not a desirable event, for a number of reasons:
Their dogs may be reactive to other dogs even if they’re not on their own territory.
Some dogs are fearful of people, especially quick-moving children or people in uniform, to name just two common fears.
Dogs who are elderly or recovering from an illness could be stressed or even injured by an overenthusiastic greeting from a young or ill-mannered dog.
Just being on a leash and walking in an area with distractions such as traffic or other dogs can be stressful for even the best-behaved dog. He’s restrained by the leash and all his senses are on alert as he walks. Being approached by an off-leash dog or one on a retractable leash can set off his canine defense system, resulting in barking, snarling and lunging.
“Even very friendly dogs, when they know they’re on-leash, they’re not really in the mood to stop and make a new friend,” says veterinary behaviorist Karen van Haaften, a veterinarian, at the British Columbia SPCA in Vancouver. “I wouldn’t want to stop and have a deep conversation with every person I walk by on the street. That’s exhausting.”
What’s a dog lover to do? If you’re the person approachingÂ â because you love cavaliers or Labs or spotted dogs, or you want your dog to have some friendly canine interactionÂ â stop! From a distance, call out and ask, “Does your dog want to meet another dog?”
If the answer is no, accept it and move on, keeping out of the other dog’s space. Don’t insist, saying “My dog’s friendly!” You’re likely to get the response “My dog’s not”Â â or “I’m not.”
Rule of paw? “Don’t let your dog approach another dog unless you’re specifically asked or given permission by the other person,” van Haaften said.
If you’re the person being approached and you want to avoid human or canine interaction with your dog, practice assertiveness and avoidance techniques. Body language is your friend as well. The simplest way to ward off people approaching with dogs or children is to hold your hand out, palm up, in the universal signal for “Stop!” Turn aside, avoiding eye contact, and ask your dog to sit or perform some other cue until the other person passes. Or simply turn around and go the other way.
When firmer measures are called for, tried-and-true responses include saying the following:
“He’s contagious.” (You don’t have to say for what.)
“We’re in training; please don’t pet her.”
“She is fearful of other dogs (or children or people in hats or uniforms).”
“Reel your dog in now,” for uncontrolled dogs on extendable leashes.
“He’s not dog-friendly.”
“No,” or “Stop.”
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and journalist Kim Campbell Thornton of Vetstreet.com. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker.