‘My Dog is Friendly’…I hear this phrase a lot with clients, friends and family and it is often paired with lots of frustration as these ‘dog friendly’ owners are allowing their dogs to roam wherever they want and invading the other dog’s personal space.
There are many ways that we react to this phrase, the main two being polite, or angry.
I have owned various dogs with different temperaments including dogs with aggression, reactivity, nervousness and a dog that gets waaay too excited when it sees another dog. They all have their own unique struggles and i have reacted differently to the ‘ my dog is friendly’ phrase with each dog. When i rehomed Rosco from the research centre , i didn’t have strict a training plan as i wanted him to build his confidence in a world he has never lived in, we often walked in quiet places just me and him. After a month or so i started training for obedience, but this had its struggles. The first time i let him off lead and he ran to a bunch of dogs with me bellowing behind ‘he is friendly’ whilst running to fetch him. That’s right, i was that owner everyone shames upon. I should of been prepared but there was no conflict between me and the other owner, which i was anxiously anticipating. No one is perfect but its the lesson you learn from mistakes that make you close to perfect. Most importantly, everyone has their own journeys with their dogs…
Let’s look at the aggressive and reactive dog, picture this, a lady in a yellow raincoat and blue wellie boots walking a lurcher in the local woodland walk. She plans her walks early to avoid bumping into dogs off lead as she fears her dog would rip its throat out, she feels that she has NO control over her dog and NO way to stop or control a potential dog fight. When she sees a another dog, she is immediately haunted by thoughts of a dog attack, sending anxiety down her fingertips, down the lead and absorbed by her lurcher. This lady has adopted the mindset of ignoring those thoughts, which works when there are no dogs around, but when a dog does appear- that mindset doesn’t work.
This lady got up at 7am and did her normal walk with her lurcher, THEN she spotted a labrador darting towards them both- those haunting thoughts are now real! Her mind is in a state of panic and fear, almost like a magpie flying into your kitchen and not knowing how to get out, it will lose control and let its body’s system take course. The labrador’s owner from the distance ‘shout’s its okay, he is friendly’ …This lady is not reassured and is currently struggling to keep her dog against a tree whilst shoo-ing the labrador past and her lurcher, well he is just a all teeth and hackles at the end of the lead. Once the owner catches up, the lady says he isn’t friendly and the Labrador owner apologies as he was unaware. After most incidences like this, the body and mind reflects on the situation, this lady was looking for blame, she did everything right, her dog was on lead and muzzled- the man’s labrador was off lead, in the eyes of the Dangerous Dogs Act, she was being responsible. So, her anger is now at the labrador owner who should of had his dog on lead when he saw her dog was on lead.
Now lets imagine the labrador owner, this man walks this labrador for elderly neighbour who cannot walk as much as he used it, and this man loves dogs so he jumped at the opportunity. He tried to train this labrador too, but some days it is easier just to let him off lead to get rid of his built up energy. Despite some flaws, this labrador is dog friendly as he won’t interact with other dogs unless its mutual, this is because the elderly neighbour invested lots of time and money into the labradors socialisation and training. So, when this man encounters a dog on a walk, he has full security that his dog won’t react or engage unless its mutual from both dogs, providing him with the up most confidence- but what he struggles with is having the labrador on a lead- hence why he is off lead!
Can we see a clash? Neither the man or lady have control of their dogs in certain situations, similarly there isn’t any communication and understanding between the people and dogs involved. The only communication between the man and lady, is war.
It is probably impossible to communicate with dog owners over a distance, unless there is a course in being telepathic. But there are things we can do to convert combat into concord….
Whether the dog is reactive, over excited, or even a puppy, preparation is key. Preparation covers a whole bunch of things including controlling the dogs arousal levels before leaving the home , and having a protocol to follow if there is an encounter with an unwanted dog. Following an effective protocol in combination with a positive and confident mind set will take away the panic, fear and anxiety and instead restore confidence, control and remove the STRESS! Which, in turn will give the dog a healthy mind set too!
Protocols, preparation and a healthy mind might sound a bit wacky, but trust me, it is not! The great thing is they can be easy if we understand, practice and implement them. These will be individual to each dog and owner but i would be happy to help create one for you, just drop me a message!!
This is a tricky one if the dog/dog owner is not visible- so going back to being prepared- know your blind spots and follow the protocol! If the owner is close by then you can verbally communicate with them by stating
‘ Hi there, please can you put your dog on lead whilst you walk past me, my dog is (behaviour problem) and needs space’
The other owner may repeat the ‘phrase he is friendly, its okay’ If this happens, then become more authoritative whilst securing your happy mind set: ” Thank-you, i appreciate that but my dog is very (behaviour problem) and is following training program, which means interactions NEED to be minimal, so please can you put your dog on a lead”. In my experience, i have often exaggerated the behaviour problems but most of the time people will respond accordingly. Treating and communicating on a mutual level also encourage people to be more co-operative.
If the ‘my dog is friendly’ runs to a dog on lead and there is not any time to correct this behaviour, then apologise in an empathetic manner, such ah “I am so sorry my dog ran to yours and sorry for any stress caused because of this” – THEN get cracking on training recall and connection training- and again follow a protocol!!
Top Question: The Red Lead, the Yellow Bow- why they don’t work…
First of all, they are not visually attracting. I walked Rosco with a red lead last week and a week later with a yellow ribbon, only 1 out of 8 walkers put their dog on a lead.
Red does resemble danger and text on a lead stating ‘space needed’ communicates a good message but only at short distances. From a long distance, it is not easy for owners to read the text off on the lead or distinguish if the lead is red or patterned. and what if owners are colour blind?! who knows…
In my mini experiment, i found that owners were not scouting or observing other dog owners, they were in fact purely walking their dogs, absorbing the environment or they were actually on their phone…which to me indicates that as a dog owner population we are not educated or supported enough in colour code system.
As a dog owner and trainer myself, i find the colour code system, printed harnesses and the yellow ribbon a massive misunderstanding- it is a minefield! It baffles me to why we need them, surely if every dog owner was educated in obedience and the importance of respecting fellow dog owners, then we wouldn’t have such a conflict with each other. Perhaps, sticking to one system and maximising the supportive information to every dog owner could increase the likelihood of the adopting the system.
I also think there is a simple solution, see a dog, put a lead on the dog. Regardless of how perfect they are and how they never react, it is respect. I can guarantee everyone by following that solution, it will make a happy owner and happy dog, 100%.
So, what does attract human attention? This is very individual as we are all attracted to various things, some of us will see a dog on lead and automatically put our dogs on lead, others assume that unless it has a muzzle it is friendly – There is one cue, a muzzle
Simply seeing a muzzle can grab peoples attention and they will usually put there dogs on a lead, mostly out of fear/anxiety. What i have found is this pretty cool yellow tabard from Neon Dogs, which my friends with reactive dogs say it works a treat! And it comes in a small bum-bag so perfect when you spot an owner from a distance. I am trialling this out my self soon.
This advice may not solve your problems and battles with other dog owners and there will be those people who won’t listen and carry on, but being prepared and knowing 100% how to handle your fears is the step in the right direction, particularly when training but also in day to day life!
Here are you take home messages:
- Create a protocol- understand arousal, master the art of confidence.
- Communicate, be honest and stand up for yourself…
- See dog, put dog on lead.
- Seek training from a professional for support and guidance.
Enjoy your walks, be prepared, communicate, be confident and walk happy!