(I thought I’d take a little break from writing my blogs on dominance to write another post on something that I have been thinking about a lot recently…)
Ask any dog owner or professional dog walker, what their biggest fears are when walking the dogs, and it is a safe bet that one of their top answers will be their dog running up to someone who doesn’t like dogs.
I have been nervous of non-dog people ever since a dog walk when I saw a father shout at his boys to stand still, before he kicked my customer’s dog, who had just gone up to say hello - albeit in a typical lurcher style, dashing up then stopping a few feet away and bouncing excitedly in front of them. Thankfully the man’s foot barely connected with the dog and all was well with her, but I was left shaken and angry – I doubt the father felt much better either.
Unfortunately, this situation happens all too frequently in areas where dogs can be walked off lead and this can often lead to disagreements, upset, hurt and anger between both sets of people and the dog, a negative experience for all and hardly helping with the divide between dog and non-dog people. So what can be done?
Whilst it can be very easy to get angry with people who don’t like our dogs, our dogs are our responsibility at all times and we need to ensure that they do not upset members of the public - even if we don’t view our dogs actions as upsetting. How can we do this? Well I look at this as a twofold programme…
Firstly work on a no-jump up policy when your dog meets people, ask them not to pet your dog unless all 4 paws are on the ground and to simply ignore them until this happens. If you can, training your dog to sit on meeting new people is even better, they can’t jump and sit! This is what we are working on with Lexie at the moment, although we are often hampered by our dog friendly friends and family who ignore this rule – you know who you are!! If this isn’t working, then we give Lexie a time out, either in her room or in the garden if we are at home, or on lead if we are on a walk, for 2 minutes, which allows her to calm down before we try again. We usually find that both friends and family and Lexie are better behaved second time around! Ignoring dogs that are jumping up is the most effective punishment you can give them, they are jumping up to get attention and petting, if you withhold this until they are standing or sitting, they will quickly learn to stand or sit when greeting people to get the attention they want.
The second part of the programme is to work on a great recall - if you know that your dog will always respond to your recall, you can call them away from people who are clearly uncomfortable with your dog. Once your dog is safely back with you, you can then either distract them from the person by playing a game with them, hold them until the person has passed by whilst making a big fuss of them, walk away with your dog in another direction ensuring that your dog stays with you, or if you must, pop your dog back on lead until the person has gone out of sight. I’d never usually advocate putting a dog back on lead as a consequence of a good recall, it is not a happy consequence for the dog and it may make them unlikely to repeat it, however this is much preferable to having your dog shouted at, kicked or abused by a scared non-dog person, so if you need to do this, do it and make sure you wait until you are a reasonable distance away until you let your dog off lead again, then practice a few more off-lead recalls ensuring that the main reward (after a fuss and treat) is continued off-lead freedom, to make up for the temporary loss!
If you can keep practicing this, you will be covered both ways, you can call your dog away from a nervous person, or worst case and they approach and you haven’t noticed, they will at least not jump up! Other exercises that may help are Sit at a Distance and Emergency Stops.
Do keep your eyes out for people who are clearly not dog friendly, often they will tense up when they see your dog, try to change course to avoid meeting you or your dog, or pull their arms protectively around them. If you see this, do all you can to try to keep your dog from approaching them. You will not only be helping them to enjoy their walk, but you will also be showing them a shining example of a well behaved dog, and who knows perhaps if they see more of these, they may start to become less fearful of dogs!
If someone shouts that are nervous of dogs, it is always worth thanking them too and making it obvious that you are doing all you can to keep your dog from approaching them. The warning is always helpful (better that than no warning and an altercation) and you will be showing them that you appreciate it!
What to do if you are a Non-Dog Person around Dogs
Firstly, you do have my empathies, it is never fun to be scared of something that so many people love. Unfortunately, if you enjoy walks in local parks or in the country, then you are very likely to encounter dogs off lead. What can you do if these dogs are making you feel uncomfortable?
I would always suggest to change your route if you can, avoiding the dog or its owner, this alone may stop the dog approaching you and may alert the dog’s walker that you do not want to be approached by the dog.
Here is a list of things that you should and should not do if you are approached by a dog in public:
- DO completely ignore the dog. Dogs often enjoy the attention they get from many strangers, but if you are clearly ignoring them they may well deduce that they will not get attention from you and go investigate something else.
- DO ask the dog’s walker politely and clearly to “please keep your dog away”. If they are like me, they will do everything they can to prevent their dog approaching you, or if the dog does, they will try to quickly move their dog away from you.
- DO NOT shout or scream at the walker to “get your dog away”, this will add additional stress to the situation which will not help.
- DO continue to walk slowly past the dog whilst ignoring it. If this is not an option DO adopt a firm stance to avoid being pushed over should the dog jump up, preferably angled slightly away from the dog.
- DO NOT run past the dog, dogs often find running exciting and may chase or jump.
- DO try to keep your hands down, as raised hands often encourage a dog to jump - they may think you have a ball or treat.
- DO keep your palms open and facing the dog to show you have nothing in your hands that they need to investigate.
- DO NOT make any sudden jerky movements with any part of your body, in particular your arms and hands, these movements can excite dogs and this will make them more prone to jumping up and not leaving you alone.
- DO NOT try to shoo the dog away with your arms or voice. Dogs do not understand this gesture and this will only excite them.
- DO NOT make eye contact with the dog, you should turn your head away from them, or if you are unable to do this, look at a spot near but not directly at them. Dogs find eye contact arousing but a turned head indicates disinterest (this is dog speak for ‘leave me alone’).
- DO NOT speak to or shout at the dog or scream. The less attention it gets from you, the less interested it will be in you and the more likely it will be to move on quickly. If you must speak, try saying a firm, clear (but not shouted) Sit. Many dogs have been trained to sit and you may be lucky. However it would be better to ignore the dog completely.
- DO NOT hit, kick or lash out at the dog (unless you feel you must in self-defence of course) these jerky movements will further excite the dog and if the dog feels threatened it may react to this with growls, barks or biting, which will only exacerbate the situation.
Most dog walkers will do their best to get their dogs to move on from you quickly, please try to be patient, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes it may look like they are trying crazy things to get their dogs away, which can include waving hands around, making weird loud noises and running in the opposite direction. Seeing as dogs like movement and excitement, this is often an effective method, so please bear with us if we look like we are trying. If it works we know that we can repeat this next time to move our dogs away from other walkers who do not want to be bothered by our dogs.
If you have children train them to ‘make like a tree’ if they are approached by a dog, standing still, with their arms to their side and not moving or shouting. Make sure that your children are never left unsupervised with a dog, or in an area where there may be other dogs.
Friends and Family of Dog Owners
If you are meeting up with a dog and its owners, do ask the owners in advance how the dog should be greeted. Many owners will have their own ways that they feel their dogs should be greeted, which may well form part of their training plan to ensure that their dogs do not jump up on strangers. If you can help them with this training by following their instructions, you will be doing your friend and their dog a huge favour! Contrary to popular opinion, dogs do not ‘grow out’ of jumping up on people, they need to be consistently trained not to do this. Many owners, like myself, find that their dogs do not jump up on them, but frequently do on their guests. This is not just because the guests as ‘new people’ are often more exciting than their owners, but also unfortunately because dog friendly guests often don’t follow the rules on petting the dog when it is not jumping on them, which only confirms the dogs belief that jumping up on people is the best way to get their attention!
We may never be able to get dog lovers and non-dog people to agree on walking off lead dogs in public places, but hopefully, by following the advice in this blog and respecting the needs, rights and wishes of everyone, we can make a step towards walking in harmony!
If you would like our help in training your dogs greetings or recall, then please have a look at the training ForPaws offer, then either call me on 07500 119232 or email me to set up a time to meet up..
With thanks to Lyn Dobson IMDT of L4 Learners Dog Training School for her input into this blog!
Some of the information in this blog also came from On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas.