By Katie Shannon
This is a tough group to belong to; the dogs categorized as needing to be approached with caution. I sympathise with all who are experiencing the challenge of owning one of these dogs, it is no easy task. We may genuinely have a dog that has good reason to unfortunately, be labelled a Caution Dog. It may be their history, their unpredictability, legislation requirements or just for their own protection. What if I told you that more dogs should belong to this group, how would that make you feel? Confession time, when I am out in public, I don’t actually want anyone to approach my dogs. It is not at all because they are unfriendly; I just do not want to put my dog in a situation that exposes them to the unfair advantage of ‘anything can happen’. Truth be told, all dogs should be treated with respect and approached with caution.
Here are some creative ways to help get your dog the respect they deserve, cope with set backs and keep a safe distance.
1. Always Have Your Dog’s Best Interests at Heart: Simply put, do not put your dog is any situation where they are left to a disadvantage. Have their back and protect them from having to make a choice on how to control a situation they are uncomfortable in. Never put them in that situation in the first place.
2. Wait for the Right Time to Walk: Avoid peak busy times, reduce the risks. By walking early in the morning, you are more likely to run into dedicated owners, who on average, are better educated, and more understanding. This means they are more likely to respect your space. Late at night, the dog park is a night owls dream. You generally have the place to yourself. Avoid afternoons and weekends when the casual walkers are lollygagging along.
3. Know When Enough is Enough: If you ever feel like your dog is too much for you to handle, that statement was probably true a long time ago, and denial has kept it deeply hidden until now. It is OK to ask for help. Enlist the help and advice of a professional. Make sure you are listening to what they have to tell you, even if you don’t want to hear it. The truth can be ugly. It may not be easy, but they will have suggestions to make things easier.
4. Watch Me: This is a great command to teach your dog to direct their focus off on an object and on to you in a positive way. This means your dog sits and looks at you, instead of focusing on the whatever triggers them, they get well rewarded with yummy treats for remaining distracted. Keep your distance from any target objects your dog may be eye-balling as you do this.
5. Loose Leash: Tension on the leash is transferred right to your dog. Keeping a loose loop in the leash sends the message to relax.
6. Check Your Equipment: Be mindful of what type of collar you have on your dog. Corrective collars like prong or choke chains, for example, can actually trigger or heighten reactions as they tighten. A flat collar or harness may be a suitable replacement to ensure your dog is secured, while still maintaining control. The use of any type of training collar should be reviewed on a case per case basis, with a proper consultation, and prescribed under the education and guidance of a professional.
7. Speed up: This is incredibly helpful if you have a reactive dog. Picking up the pace will help set them at ease as they begin to shift their focus from an object to their gait and speed. If things begin to fall apart and your dog starts to spiral out of control, take them for a big burst of speed (short, but hard run). This can help to act as a reset button and relieves stress.
8. Walk with Purpose: If you look like you are on a mission, people are far less likely to want to stop or approach you.
9. Have a Fallback Plan: This sounds horrible, but I promise it works. If you have someone who just insists that all dogs love them and won’t take NO for an answer, make up a fake “contagious” illness. If they continue to approach I will call out “He has snuffle-oxy-ga-tight-us” or some scientific sounding name. They won’t even hear anything you said, except for the next part “It is highly contagious!!”. They won’t stick around long enough to dispute the facts, likely walk away quickly, and disgusted. I mean ‘how dare I bring a “contagious” dog out in public?’.
10. Wear a Muzzle: Muzzling your dog makes a statement. It tells people there is a reason to not approach your dog; whether it is for people, other dogs, or just a precautionary measure -it doesn’t really matter. The sight of a muzzle is usually enough to dissuade people from coming closer.