To all dog owners who have nice, friendly, sociable, unreactive dogs, we the owners of reactive dogs would like you to take a minute and read this and understand what it is like for us to take our dogs out and about.
To the dog owner who said to me “my dog is friendly and only wants to say hello” as your dog is running towards my reactive, fearful dog: It really doesn’t matter how friendly your dog is. Mine isn’t. My dog is terrified of other dogs (because he has been attacked previously or perhaps he wasn’t socialised as a pup and never learnt to interact properly), Despite how friendly your dog is, if your dog runs up to mine, my dog will most definitely try to protect himself out of fear. As an owner, this is not much I can do to avoid it and the interaction will negatively impact all of the hard work I am putting into my dog. I also don’t want your friendly dog to have a negative experience. Nobody benefits from this situation, so please, call your dog away.
To the dog owner who scowled at me when I politely asked him to call his dog away – I genuinely don’t mean to be rude to you or your dog. I’m trying to protect my dog, to make sure his behaviour rehabilitation is successful,. I am also acting in your dog’s best interest. Being bitten or growled at is not something you want your dog to experience, and I’m just trying to make sure we can both prevent it.
To the dog owner who said to me that it was their right to have their dog off lead and let him approach any dog he wants – I’m afraid that’s not true. If your dog is off lead, you need to have your dog under complete control. Do you have absolute recall where your dog will return to you when asked? It is essential to have full control at all times, otherwise, how will you prevent him from running up to not only dogs but also other people (including small children, the elderly, cyclists, joggers) and those who are afraid of or don’t like dogs? Not everyone appreciates your dog’s company.
It is important to remember that many dogs are walked on lead not because they are reactive, but because they may be ill or recovering from illness or surgery. There are also assistance dogs that are on lead doing their job in keeping their humans are safe – remember that according to the newest legislation if your dog injures an assistance dog, you are liable.
To the dog owners with their dog on an extendable or short lead who approach other on-lead dogs for their dog to “say hello” – again, sometimes it might be absolutely fine to do so, but please ask the owner first. Dogs on lead have a limited opportunity to use their body language properly when greeting other dogs and may feel trapped when unable to move away – even very friendly dogs can find this situation very uncomfortable. A dog on a lead is unable to initiate a flight response and can act aggressively as a result. If the leads get tangled up and the dogs end up very close to each other and unable to move away, a fight is almost imminent. Don’t risk it.
To the dog owner who said we shouldn’t be walking our dogs as they are reactive, how else would you like us to exercise our dogs? We can assure you we choose the time to walk our dogs carefully – never during school runs or right after everybody comes back home from work; we choose secluded places and don’t take advantage of the lovely dog walking areas you have at your disposal; we avoid venturing out during the day on Saturdays and Sundays, and either get up ridiculously early in the morning or walk very late at night to avoid bumping into hundreds of dogs and owners enjoying their weekend walkies.
We genuinely do our best not to put our dogs and other people’s dogs in difficult situations. But we do have to get our dogs exercised, and if we want to rehabilitate our dogs, we need to encounter some dogs at a distance. All we need is a bit of understanding and space for us to pass by with our dog, to build his confidence and react positively to yours. So please, put your dog back on lead for a minute.
And finally, to the lovely dog owners who call their dogs and put them on lead as we walk past trying to keep our dog’s focus on us as much as we can. We thank you for your understanding. We are trying our best to improve our dogs’ lives. We spend countless hours watching dogs at a distance, following behaviour modification programs, taking tiny steps forward, and sometimes crying over steps back.
It isn’t easy, and sometimes we would do anything for our dogs to become sociable butterflies like other dogs are. We love our dogs and want to help them, so thank you, for helping us too.