Have you ever been on a walk where an off leash, or maybe even an on leash dog was allowed to come running up to you and your dog while the owner yelled "it's ok, he's friendly!"? Have you ever been that owner? Today we are going to talk about why it is absolutely NOT OK.
The following situation is a true story that was witnessed on the local trails about a year or so ago.
It is a beautiful sunny day, the perfect day for a hike on the trails. So you pack up your water, your bug spray and sunscreen and grab your dog and his leash. You hop in your car and head out. Expecting the trails to be busy and knowing you have a dog that can be reactive, you thought ahead and brought the shorter leash for more immediate control should the situation arise where its needed. You have a plan and you have been working hard with your dog on increasing his engagement with you and his threshold to other dogs. Progress has been made and you are both ready for what the day may bring. Your hike is going well, you and your pup are having a great time and had some opportunities to practice some newly learned skills. Until, from out of what seems like no where comes an off leash dog barreling right at you with the owner calmly walking behind yelling "it's ok, he's friendly". But it's not ok. Your dog is not ok with unknown dogs coming into his space and even less ok with them running full tilt at him. You yell back "get your dog now" just as your dog lets loose with barking, snaping, growling and lunging forward. You move backwards, pulling your dog towards you to try and place yourself between him and the oncoming dog, trying to provide your dog with the space they so desperately need to feel safe. At this point the owner starts to call his dog. But the dog appears to have no recall and continues towards you while you are struggling to keep your dog behind you and the other dog away.
Let's stop here. I don't think I need to continue. We have all seen or been involved in some version of this situation.
Now some people will be quick to say that a reactive dog has no business being on a trail. Regardless of if you believe this to be true or not the fact remains that reactive dogs need exercise too. And how can their reactivity be worked on if they never get a chance to practice those skills they are learning. When choosing a location to walk your dog, take into consideration the leash laws for that area. If you want your dog to run free then choose an area where this is allowed. The vast majority of owners with reactive dogs will not be in these areas. Remember that while your dog may be friendly, others may not be. And while your dog may love people, not all people love dogs. So while there is no funny story to be had today, I hope that you have a little more understanding of why is it not appropriate to allow your dog to get into another's space without first ensuring that dog is receptive to it. It is important, when you come across a reactive dog not to judge or assume the dog is a bad dog. Most often the behaviors you are seeing come from fear. The dog is not actually an aggressive dog, they are a fearful dog and they are putting on a show to make sure you and/or your dog stay away. That does not mean they won't bite if you don't take them seriously. What it means is that they do not desire to cause harm. They just want more space. They NEED more space. So be kind, be respectful and give them a wide berth so that they, and their owner can take the steps needed to get through the situation as positively as possible. For without understanding and kindness, there can not be progress.