An important component of dog and puppy socialisation is teaching them to control their enthusiasm, to behave appropriately and respect other dogs’ personal space.
A lot of dogs will already be excited by the idea of going for a walk and if they see another dog it can tip them into over-excitement. They might bark or lunge on the lead, they may even turn circles or zig zag tangling the lead and tripping up the handler. This is not good manners and the behaviour may cause distress or harm to dogs and handlers. It is preferable to avoid allowing your pup to practice this behaviour and to teach her a better, more rewarding way to behave while on leash. What we do want is for our dogs to be calm, under control and ready to focus on us while ignoring the dog on the other side of the street.
Approaching another dog face to face or front on can be confronting for some dogs. Many dogs prefer to approach novel or strange things side on in an arc or curve. Also, the anxiety of one or both of the dogs may increase because their ability to retreat, if the situation calls for it, is limited by the fact that they are restrained. For these reasons, any on-leash interactions should be closely supervised. Never allow your unleashed dog to interact with a dog that is on leash, and never interfere with a dog that is tied up.
There are many reasons why you should give other dogs space. Not all dogs like the company of other dogs. My dog, Freda, seems to have a lot of acquaintances but just a couple of dogs that are really good friends. It is only the really good friends that she will immediately launch into a game with, all others need to go through an ‘ice-breaking’ period, or may not get to play with her at all. Perhaps the other dog is fearful, or stressed or has a history of bad experiences. Or the other dog may be in training and may not appreciate interruption. If they are anything like Freda and me, the dog and handler may just be enjoying some alone time together—Freda to sniff the pee-mail and me to collect my thoughts before starting the day.
Also, please understand that it is not fair to expect other dogs to discipline your unruly puppy. It might back-fire and cause your puppy to be worried or defensive, and I don’t want your unruly puppy’s behaviour threatening to undo the training of my dog.
A better scenario is one where your dog is happy and calm, and is trusting you not to put them in a stressful social situation while they are on leash and can’t escape.
You can achieve this by ensuring there is plenty of distance between your dog and any dogs you might encounter on your walk. It is polite and sensible to cross to the other side of the street or park if there is the chance of your dog reacting. There has to be enough distance so that your dog is still relatively relaxed and will still take a food treat. Be prepared that to start with, this may be a long distance. When your dog has noticed the other dog play ‘Find/Get It’. Scatter a few treats on the ground, preferably so that your dog faces away from the approaching dog and say “Find it!”.
Allow your dog to snuffle up the treats and then scatter some more treats and say “Find it!” again. Repeat this until the other dog has passed. The treats are something nice for your dog to focus on and also cause her to lower her head which should calm her and may also be interpreted as a not-a-threat signal by the other dog. [We play this game in our Level Two—Consolidation class at the Club].
If your dog is calm, allow her to observe the other dog. Give her a chance to determine that the stranger is not a threat. When she is ready to engage with you again, reward her with a food treat and carry on with your walk.
Possibly one day you will turn a corner and find yourselves face to face with another dog and a potential reactive situation. This is where you can employ a controlled emergency U-turn to quickly increase the distance between your dog and the other dog before they have a chance to react.
Training the emergency U-turn [We teach this in our Level Two class as well]
Start at home in a low distraction environment. Choose a cue such as “This way!” or “Let’s go!” – you want to keep it upbeat and fun for your dog.
- Walk forward with your dog beside you.
- Say “This way!” or whatever cue you choose, drop your knees slightly and do a 180 degree turn so you are now both walking in the opposite direction. Use a treat or a toy to lure your dog around and use encouraging sounds to bring them along with you.
- Initially mark and deliver the treat to your dog as you complete the turn.
- Walk confidently off in this new direction (in the real-world situation you want to travel an adequate distance from the thing you are retreating from).
- After a few practice runs you can begin to reward after you have taken a few steps in the new direction after the U-turn.
- Practice until you both have a good strong reinforcement history (yes, you the handler too because you may be flustered yourself in the real situation).
- Practice it while out on your walk and there are no dogs around.
- And then … put it in to practice when real life demands!
Tips for developing good manners while out on a walk
- Keep the leash loose! A tight leash will increase anxiety.
- Be a good role model – remain calm and controlled. Do not yell, scold or punish (which won’t work, and may make things worse).
- Play games that build attention—hide and seek, follow my hand and chase me games will help build your dog’s focus and recall.
- Train and practice an emergency U-turn.
You cannot possibly control all the external experiences and things that are distractions to your dog but you can go some way to setting yourselves up for a much more controlled and enjoyable walk by following these suggestions.
Image: ID: 530517922, illustratordreamer, Shutterstock ©
Juliet Ward is an Instructor at the Club.