There are a lot of articles that offer advice and support for the reactive dog owner. Even I have written a fair few. This last week I got a candid email from a reader that brought up a great point – there are two sides to every dog encounter. Yes, there is the owner of the reactive dog, but there is also another person that plays a role in how this scenario unfolds.
So today we are addressing the person who is meeting the reactive dog. After all, what you do has a major effect on what happens with that reactive dog. In some cases, it can seal their fate.
Things You Need To Remember:
- That dog is a loved member of someone else’s family
- Any dog – any breed, any age – can be reactive
- The owner is probably stressed, embarrassed, worried, nervous, or all of the above about their dog’s behavior
- No one asks to have a reactive dog, no one wants a reactive dog. You should applaud them for not giving up on the dog and just dumping it at the shelter. At least they are trying.
- If they are out in public, it’s because they are working on getting their dog over their reactivity. There’s no way to do this without practicing around other people or dogs at a safe distance.
There is a caveat to this last one. We are referring to responsible dog owners who know and understand their reactive dog and are behaving appropriately themselves. If you see someone with a reactive dog on a retractable lead that’s barking and lunging twenty feet from its owner, or with an owner that appears to not care that their dog is acting that way, they should not be in public. However, for your own sake, you should still follow the following guidelines for respecting the dog.
5 Rules For Respecting The Reactive Dog
The biggest problems I encounter (because I too am the owner of a reactive dog who guards me from other dogs) is people not listening or believing me when I tell them my dog is not friendly and to stay away. I understand it’s hard – he’s a fluffy Blue Merle Sheltie that only weighs 18 pounds. But he really doesn’t want your dog coming up to him!
Rule #1: Listen to the owner! No one knows a dog better than its owner, so if they tell you to stay away, then stay away. Some reactive dogs bite out of fear or aggression – do you really want to test that?
Rule #2: Pay attention to the dog! The dog may be giving different signals than the owner and it’s good to keep an eye on him, just in case. Sometimes an owner may think her dog is ready to be approached by people, but the dog is saying no. Even if the owner is telling you its okay, don’t do it if the dog’s body language says otherwise.
Rule #3: Yield! Good owners of reactive dogs have been taught all the tricks to avoid situations – move to the other side of the street, emergency U-turns, walking at odd times, and constantly surveying the area around them. But sometimes they are in a situation where they can’t get away. The man who emailed me said everyone in his neighborhood knows his dog, but he still ends up getting “boxed” in because the other owners don’t help him out. Instead, he gets blamed and told he has a bad dog that needs training. She is getting training, but part of that involved being around other dogs.
So be polite and yield. You too can move across the street, turn around, or just give the dog space by walking out a bit while you pass. Move to the side and stop moving until they get safely around you. Unsure of what to do? Ask the other owner what would help them out most.
You yield when you drive your car right? You don’t just assume every other driver is going to get out of your way (yikes!), so do the same for your fellow dog owner!
Rule #4: Keep your dog leashed! Off-leash dogs in areas where they are supposed to be, by law, on leash, are the worst thing for reactive dog owners. My dog’s training has been seriously hindered because I don’t dare take him anywhere local to be around dogs at safe distance because no one follows the leash laws. Is that fair to the owner who is trying to do right by their reactive dog? It’s the law and it may save your dog from getting into a fight if someone does bring their reactive dog to the park. Of course, if the area is an off-leash area, then reactive dog owners should not be taking their dogs there, unless they are fine off-leash (some are.)
Rule #5: Be Kind! When someone is trying hard to avoid a bad situation, telling them that their dog is awful, or needs training, or that they are a bad owner, is not helpful. In fact, it will most likely make the person frustrated, embarrassed, and even angry. More importantly, it takes their concentration off their dog, which can be dangerous. So keep your opinions to yourself for the sake of the dog, if nothing else.
Following These Rules May Keep A Dog Out Of The Shelter
If both sides of the story respect and help the reactive dog, there will be a lot less dangerous incidents. Less incidents means owners of reactive dogs won’t be as likely to give up on them and turn them in to the shelter – so you are helping dogs stay in homes. Why? Because the reactive dogs will have a better chance at progressing through their training and if the owner is seeing results, they are more likely to keep at them.
Respecting dogs makes for better canine citizens all around, which benefits the entire neighborhood. So share this with everyone you know, whether they own a dog or not, and let’s work together to help all dog owners and their dog’s lives better.