The reaction I have when I tell someone to please not approach me with their dog varies from anger to hurt. Some assume I am uptight and don’t want my dog to get dirty having a good time; some feel like I don’t understand the nature of their pet. “She’s friendly!” I’ve heard many times called from an owner being dragged by a happy-go-lucky Lab or Cocker Spaniel. But…my dog isn’t. No matter how hard I try. And she’s getting better — with reactive dog training and patience, she’s no longer as easily triggered into being ready to attack. But no matter how friendly or sweet YOUR pup is — MINE isn’t, at least not with other dogs.
I’ve said this to many people — and had many different responses. Some lecture me that if they were introduced properly, they’d be fine. Sure — but for my dog, being introduced properly isn’t in a public place with your dog running and jumping at her. I already know it’s a bad idea — because I know my dog better than a stranger does.
“But we want to socialize him,” is another common one. Socializing your puppy properly is important, and I get it. But unfortunately, as I know well, one bad interaction can give your dog social setbacks or make them paranoid for life — leading to “aggressive” reactive behaviors like my dog. And if you, even unintentionally, bring your dog into an aggressive dog’s space, you are setting them up for trauma due to being bitten or full-on attacked. Dog parks are pretty safe bets for finding places with friendly dogs, as are meetup groups specially designed for socialization (most chain pet stores offer these, as do dog groups you can find on social networking sites). And this is why you won’t find my dog in either of these places. The responsibility is also on reactive dog owners in these cases — your dog shouldn’t be found in places where others can safely assume your dog is friendly.
And let’s be clear — the problem here isn’t my dog. You shouldn’t be letting your dog come up to anyone without permission. How do you know not only if their dog is friendly, but if they don’t have a dog, if they are scared or allergic? This applies in particular to dogs who are prone to barking when excited. I’m a dog lover through and through, but panic sets in when a large dog runs up to me barking, particularly if I can’t see their owner nearby. Imagine how one feels if they were previously attacked by a dog or even if they just have a fear of them. Part of this is about your dog’s safety, too. Be aware that even if your dog has all their shots (which they should!) fleas, worms, and other not-so-fun guests are easily transmittable, and you have no way of knowing if a stranger’s dog harbors them.
It’s OK to want your dog to play with other dogs — and there are plenty of social settings designed explicitly for this purpose. But please, show respect to other dogs and their owners by at the very least asking before barreling over to play. And while you’re at it, there are a few signs to look for that may signal an aggressive dog — so if you notice them, steer clear out of courtesy. When my dog becomes reactive, she is afterwards afraid and neurotic — it causes her extreme stress. Even if it is safe for your dog to walk by, consider that going an alternate route may help out the other party.
Look for these signs:
A yellow ribbon on the dog’s leash or collar. While it may mean nothing, in many cases a yellow ribbon on the dog’s belongings signals that she needs some space and should not be approached.
“Caution” vests — dogs who don’t feel up to meeting others may be wearing vests with statements like “Caution” or “Nervous.” You also shouldn’t let your dog approach a dog wearing a service dog vest — they are at work, and don’t need to be disturbed.
A dog being pulled away or redirected — if you can see that the owner is trying to remove the dog from the situation or distract them, move your dog along quickly to help the process.
Just because someone doesn’t want to see your dog doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your dog (or with them). Remember that even if that one dog doesn’t feel like playing today (or ever), there are plenty of safe opportunities for your dog that don’t cause stress for either party.
When Chloe was younger, she wanted to meet every dog and every person. She would lunge and bark. Many times I would get people looking scared or hurry up and run to the other side of the road or park. She does have a deep bark, so it probably does sound alarming to people that aren’t used to deep barking. I’ve trained her to just leave what’s going on and just continue to walk. I always make sure that when walking and see another dog, that she is always on my side where she won’t be able to get to the other dog. If the other dog seems out of control, I simply go over to the edge or just walk to the other side of the road all together. There shouldn’t be any fights amongst dogs when owners have control over their dogs.