When it comes to the “Invisible Dog Series” we have covered existence socialization and its benefits, and we have gone over the basics of laying the foundation for your puppy/dog. There is one thing that we have not covered and it is a very important, and often over looked, step in training our dogs to be the best companions they can be when out in public and that is: the Public.
Today we will be going over how to handle common situations in public and not only how to advocate for our dogs but what it means to advocate for our dogs.
Unfortunately, when we look at training our dogs we typically get caught up in solely training our dogs, and their behaviors. We often find ourselves in situations where we want our dogs to behave a certain way or to listen, act and be a specific way especially when we are in public and eyes can be/are on us. What we routinely forget about is the effects the public can have on our dogs and how to address situations when it isn’t only our dogs who need correcting.
Advocating as a verb is defined as: to publicly recommend or support.
What does this mean when someone refers to advocating for their dogs? It means that we look at the whole picture when we assess a situation and address it accordingly in the best interest of our dog.
Let me paint a few pictures for you:
- You take your dog our to a pet friendly store and a stranger approaches, reaching out for your dog to pet him. Your dog growls at the person.
- You take your puppy into a dog friendly store, you see an unfamiliar but seemingly friendly dog. You and the owner exchange a brief conversation and you decide to introduce the two dogs. The unfamiliar dog runs up, is excitedly wagging his tail, pushing the puppy with his nose, does a few dramatic play bows and nudges the puppy expectantly trying to get the puppy to play. Your puppy tries to shy behind you, crouches down, and keeps moving away from the bigger excited dog or to the end of the leash.
- You are on a walk with your dog on leash and an unfamiliar dog, who appears very friendly, decides to run up to your dog. This unknown dog begins to circle you both, occasionally barking, play bowing occasionally, and over all trying to get in your dog’s face. The owner is approaching and saying “she’s friendly!” as their dog keeps circling and seems to be trying to get your dog to play. Your dog, at the end of his leash, finally snarls, barks and lunges at the dog.
- Your dog is off leash on a hiking trail and bolts toward a dog who is on leash. Your dog is friendly and excited to make new friends so you call out “he’s friendly!” as you approach the scene. The other dog, on leash, is at the end of her leash making circles to keep your dog in view and has her tail tucked while trying to keep her distance from your dog.
What did we see in all four of these situations?
How should we have handled each situation in the best interest of the dog(s) involved?
Lets take a look at each situations individually and determine how we could address each one and advocate best for the dog(s) involved.
- This person did not ask permission to pet your dog, and your dog has growled at them. In this situation your dog is clearly making it known that they do not feel comfortable with this stranger approaching them and does not want to interact with them. In order to advocate for your dog properly you need to keep your dog’s comfort in mind. This person should not have been able to approach your dog unannounced and without permission. Stopping the person prior to getting to your dog to prevent any issues is key. In the event that the person did reach out toward your dog and the dog did growl, reprimanding the unknown person and getting your dog out of the situation is what proper advocating calls for.
- In this situation you can step between your dog and the person, addressing the person. Ideally stopping them prior to getting to your dog, and before your dog feels the need to advocate for themselves (the growl).
- If the person has already gotten to your dog, and your dog growls, putting yourself between the person and the dog with a simple “he doesn’t want to be pet right now” can mean a world of difference for your dog. Followed by removing your dog from the situation that caused discomfort.
It is important to note here that: not everyone is going to respond the same way. Some people may become rude when confronted or when the dog growls. It is important here to keep a cool head, as our energy can transfer to the dog, and to handle it appropriately. The best thing to do in these situations is to remove your dog from the situations. It can be as easy as walking 5-10 feet away from the person/situation and “resetting” the dog to focus on you and the positives. Ie: move away from the situation and ask the dog to preform some obedience such as sit or down and to focus on you to continue to build a positive association and to advocate for them by removing the stressor (the unfamiliar person). Correcting the growl itself will not help your dog feel more comfortable in these situations, and won’t necessarily prevent it from happening again but being aware of your surroundings and advocating for your dog will help tremendously.
- Despite having your permission, the key here is to read your own puppy’s body language. They are nervous and unsure. The dog appears to be far too rambunctious and despite it being very friendly and wanting to play it is overwhelming to your puppy. In an attempt to “properly” socialize your puppy with other, friendly, dogs this can actually back fire and cause a negative association due to the unknown dog being too forceful for your puppy in this environment. In order to best advocate for your puppy is to be on your puppy’s team and to be their coach, to recognize when a situation is too much and when the puppy needs a step back.
- In this situation, the second the puppy shows signs of stress and avoidance the puppy (or other dog) should be removed from the situation. Knowing what your puppy is comfortable with is going to be a big factor, not only in general but also in the “right now”. Your puppy may love bigger playful dogs, but maybe this particular dog’s play style is too overwhelming, or something that is just different enough that it makes your puppy feel insecure.
- Do not force this interaction. Don’t make the puppy go great the other dog, and don’t continue to allow the other dog to attempt to play. Take a step back, remove the puppy from the stressful situation and work through some basic existence socialization from a distance to rebuild the positive association to the other dog without having to interact.
It is important to remember: puppies do not, and should not, have to interact with every friendly dog they meet and not every pair of dogs is going to get along. Some dogs will only like a few dogs in their lifetime and some will be social butterflies, neither are wrong. Think about it: do you like every single person you meet? Are you best friends with every single person you meet? No? Neither are dogs.
- In this situation your dog is very uncomfortable when confronted with another dog while on leash. Your dog could be the friendliest dog in the world but this is an unknown dog, your dog has no ability to take advantage of the flight response and is essentially backed into a corner.
- It is your job to advocate for your dog. To get between your dog and the other dog as best as you can. It doesn’t matter if the other dog is the friendliest dog ever, and if your dog is super friendly too, if your dog is uncomfortable by the encounter this excited energy and lack of an escape can easily create the perfect breeding ground for a dog fight.
- Getting between your dog and the unknown dog is key. Keep your dog safe, behind you and try to get control of the situation. This may require getting the owner’s attention to move faster to get their dog, asking the other owner to leash their dog, yelling at the dog and if need be using any necessary force to get the dog to leave.
- It is better to scare/startle the other dog, or even cause temporary injury (a swift kick, pepper spray, hit with a stick) that will be easily walked off than to allow a potential dog fight to happen.
- Yes, I said to use necessary force. If it is between your dog, on leash, and an off leash dog you need to advocate for your dog. Sometimes this may require necessary force to prevent a potentially dangerous situation. It is unfortunate but it is your job as your dog’s owner to protect your dog and it is the other dog’s owner to protect their own dog; by having their dog off leash, and not under control (dog not responding to obedience commands such as a solid recall) they have put their dog, as well as yours, in a potentially dangerous situation regardless of how friendly either dog is.
- So let me start by saying that everything is wrong in this scenario and you really need to re-evaluate what you are doing if this type of scene plays out.
- Your dog should not be off leash without a solid recall at absolute bare minimum.
- If your dog is bolting off toward another dog, you need to recall your dog immediately regardless of how friendly your dog is. You do not know that dog, those people, or how their dog/your dog will react in this type of situation.
- If you cannot recall your dog, lets say he is too excited and his recall went out the window, you need to get to the scene and gather your dog immediately. Don’t walk, saunter, or take your time.
- These people may not be able to tell if your dog is friendly and may use necessary force (kick, hit, pepper spray, etc) on your dog to protect themselves and their dog. YES. Even if your dog is friendly. THEY don’t know if your dog is friendly or not, and may not be willing to take the chance.
- Any injury to your dog, their dog or them will be YOUR fault for having your dog off leash and approaching these people/their dog.
- The other dog is obviously uncomfortable; it does not matter how friendly your dog is, or that your dog just wants to play, by allowing this situation to occur (or continue) puts BOTH dogs at risk. You are putting both dogs at risk.
- In order to advocate for your dog, you also need to advocate for the dog he is harassing. Yes, his attempts to play and socialize in this situation is harassment and can easily escalate into a fight. Re-read number 3 if you don’t understand how this can escalate.
Remember to advocate
It is your job as a dog owner to not only advocate for your own dog, but also to advocate for the dogs your dog interact with. If your dog is the overly rambunctious dog then make sure the dogs he tries to play with are okay with his play style, correct him as needed to keep his energy/excitement levels where they need to be. If your dog is the anxious or unsure dog, make sure you advocate to let her have all the space that she needs to feel comfortable and keep introductions to a slow and calm type of energy.
Proper advocating as been lost somewhere along the way, but it is essential to keep not only our dogs, but also us and other people, safe and comfortable. Advocating also adds extra building blocks to the foundation of our relationship with our canine companions, so that they look to us for how to handle a situation before trying to handle it themselves while still building their own confidence. Ie a nervous dog looking to us to remove the source of their anxiety/fear, and thus being less anxious/fearful rather than “lashing out” and lunging/biting at the source of their anxiety/fear.