Many dog owners yell, “It’s ok, my dog’s friendly,” as their pet bounds over to a fellow dog walker. If the other dog is also off lead, has a playful temperament and doesn’t mind an exuberant meeting, then that is fine. However if the other dog is on lead for any reason, then this carefree attitude can be frustrating, disruptive and dangerous. It’s very hard for owners of “friendly” dogs to understand how stressful such a well-meaning phrase can be, so please read on to see the other side.
Dogs recuperating from an operation of any kind will be on lead-only walks for a period of time while they regain their strength and allow their wounds to heal. This can be anything from a simple set of stitches for a minor op, to rehabilitation from major surgery. During this time the dog will likely be on bed rest, possibly in a crate which will be frustrating for them, and gentle, managed lead walks. They might also be in a certain amount of pain which will naturally make them irritable. If an excitable dog bounds over to them off lead, they will either tug to get away or start play bowing wanting to interact with the dog. Either movement could pull awkwardly on stitches, twist a weak joint or raise the heart rate, any of which could hamper their healing.
Nervous or Shy Dogs
Some dogs can interact well with other dogs, but need time and space to be introduced in a controlled manner before they are comfortable with a new friend. A boisterous off-lead dog charging at them in play can make them very anxious and could cause them to react in an unpredictable way. Other dogs are just simply not that interested in canine interaction, preferring their own company, and an approach from a strange dog is simply not welcomed.
The Yellow Dog UK is a charity raising awareness for dogs who need space and they advocate using a yellow collar, lead, bandana or ribbon to give a clear indication that the dog requires space from other dogs or people. If you see a dog in anything yellow, please respect the owner’s wish. We also sell a variety of message collars and leads to help get the message across.
Reactive or Aggressive Dogs
If the enthusiastic off-lead dog is met with barking and lunging from the dog on lead, many people would brand the dog on-lead as aggressive. However, most aggression in dogs is prompted by fear and is a direct reaction to a specific trigger, and in this instance it is the uncontrolled dog off lead that is causing the problem.
If a dog is scared by the incoming hound, but it can’t run away as it is attached to a lead, then the fight or flight syndrome kicks in and it resorts to being aggressive to protect itself. Pain is also a common cause of aggression, so if the dog is recovering from an injury, illness or operation it may be particularly grumpy and therefore lash out at any unwanted interaction. A sense of duty to protect or guard its resources is another reason for a dog to be aggressive, and this perceived threat can be linked to a favourite toy, a pack member or the human owner.
There are many reasons that a dog becomes reactive, and responsible owners of such dogs will spend a great deal of time working with their pet to help them overcome their fears or anxieties. The crux of this work will be managing interactions with other dogs on terms with which their dog is comfortable. Being caught off guard as a dog races up to them means that they don’t have time to put their training into practice and so their dog is likely to react. Not only is it upsetting to the dog and owner, it can often reinforce the reactive behaviour and setback any progress made in training.
On Lead, Please
So, if someone walking their dog on lead asks you to put your dog back on lead while you pass, please respect their request and understand that they have asked you to do this for a reason.
While your dog may be friendly, their dog might not be, might be nervous or might be recuperating. Rather than insisting that it’s ok because your dog is friendly, please put yourself in the other dog owner’s shoes and give the person and dog the space they need.
Written by: Lucy Ellis, owner of two reactive dogs
Photos by: Lucy Ellis