IT’S OKAY HE ONLY WANTS TO PLAY!
“its okay he only wants to play” – if I had a pound every time I heard this saying I’d be rich on this alone. It is probably one of the most common sayings every reactive dog owner will hear shouted from across a field, as you walk your reactive dog on lead and suddenly panic as an over-friendly, bouncing dog comes charging over with their owner miles back with not a care in the world. It seems that over the years dog walking etiquette is seriously lacking and definitely has got worse and those who own a reactive dog notice it the most.
Probably one of the biggest issues is owners who have never had or experienced a reactive dog before, do not understand the implications involved, what it actually does to your dog and the dangerous element too. However, that is NOT a good enough excuse.
Regardless if your dog is reactive or not, no dog owner should allow their dog to charge over to an unknown dog and owner and if you don’t have a recall, they most certainly should not be off lead.
A true case
I was only over the park the other day with a dog training client. Luckily this particular dog was fine around dogs and we were training on recall with a long line. Enters the park a dog owner walking the outskirt of the field and he lets off his young Cockerpoo, who is having a ball doing zoomies around the field but is also crashing, yes crashing, into my clients dog, who is extremely tolerant. It then pursued us trying to take the treats from our treat bag and the owner is standing miles away, going “come” ‘come”……. Now I am an owner of a reactive dog, and it went through my mind, how glad I felt, that I didn’t have my dog here.
Now here’s the thing, many of us reactive dog owners will avoid busy dog walking areas. We spend our time hiding in bushes and getting around corners, keeping our dogs on lead for safety and often will go out with fluorescent jackets on ourselves and/or our dog say NO DOGS – NEED SPACE!… and yet, surprisingly the owners with their over-friendly dog shouts he only wants to play. Then he gets welcomed with a lunging, snarling, barking dog and then gives us abuse for it saying our dog is aggressive.
Going through stress
Stress is not good for us and can take quite a toll on our health, so it’s not surprising that it has the same effect on our dogs. So when our dogs feel they have no choice but to lunge, bark and snarl, they are going through an awful lot of stress and over long periods can cause numerous health issues. Also us reactive dog owners spend a lot of time training and teaching our dogs to cope in these environments but often will always have an imaginary space bubble around us, where no dog can enter. As a reactive dog owner, it is down to us to discover the distance our dog can cope with and with management training, we keep our dogs under threshold, so when an off lead friendly dogs races right up to us, that will often put all our hard work and training building our dog’s confidence up, right back. Is that fair? No. So here is what all dog owners should do;
What to do?
If you see a dog on lead, replicate it, that dog could be on a lead for a reason. When another dog appears fine, it may not be friendly, so always ask before allowing your dog to run up freely to instigate play. A dog and owner on lead and suddenly they turn away avoiding you, they are creating distance for a reason, so please don’t allow your dog to approach, the distance is being created for a reason and it is not your right to allow your dog to approach. You need to have a good recall with your dog, if not then don’t allow your dog off lead. Invest time in training and purchase a good long line. Finally, whilst a reactive dog owner is doing everything possible to control and manage their dog. They are responsible for their dog alone not the safety of yours – only you are responsible for your dog, so think about the safety for your own. Let’s face it, you don’t want yours to be bitten.
There is a lovely saying I read a while back, “Remember your reactive dog is not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard”. That’s so very true, most reactivity is fear based, insecurity and could have began from being attacked themselves. They use this behaviour to keep another dog away, but we do not want our reactive dogs to use this behaviour because it means they have gone over threshold, they are stressed out and certainly not enjoying their walk. Being polite and respectful will always be gratefully received from any reactive dog owner, and if everyone took some responsibility It would make all our dog walks more relaxing and enjoyable.
By Emma Tregear, trainer and CollieMoji colaborator. She is also the founder of “Space Dogs – Dogs that need more space“