You are out for a nice walk with your pooch when (dun, dun, dun) you see a dog approaching, coming in full tilt towards you. The oblivious owner in tow, “Oh he is GREAT with other dogs”. You just want to scream “WELL MINE’S NOT! Can you please call your dog??” You start to feel your body tense; your hands fasten to a white knuckle grip on your leash. Your dog locks eyes on the target, hackles raise. “Oh, please not today”, you’re thinking, “we just wanted to have a relaxing walk”.
1. Watch Me: Eyes on me. This means your dog sits and looks at you, instead of focusing on the other dog and get well rewarded with yummy treats for remaining distracted, away from the other dog.
2. Give Your Dog Space: If you must pass near another dog, give your dog as much space as you can. Put your dog on the opposite side of you, swing a wide trail around if you can, or turn and head away from the other dog.
3. Walking Schedule: Want to have the best chance at positive dog encounters or none at all? Walking your dog first thing in the morning or last thing at night has its benefits. Early birds are usually super dedicated dog owners. They tend to have more social dogs with better manners. Night owls often can enjoy their own space. Avoid walking your dog right after school gets out, when people get off work, or on weekends. These walkers usually have dogs that are not walked as regularly, tend to be cooped up and are finally getting a small taste of freedom which means they are overly excited already. They are generally under less control and can forget their manners.
4. Change Directions: Instead of approaching head on and creating huge stress for your dog, turn around and walk away from the other dog. Put that dog behind you. Out of sight is out of mind, well hopefully.
5. Harness or Collar: If you have a very reactive dog, sometimes switching from a collar to a harness can help to relax your dog. Aversive training tools, like choke chains, can trigger a dog into a physical reaction with unfavorable outcomes.
6. Where are Your Hands: LOOSE Leash! We tend to tense up in anticipation of what is about to happen next. Your dog will feel this transferred through a tight leash and it will only escalate things sooner. Be very mindful of your hand placement on the leash, your grip and try your best to keep the leash loose.
7. Pick up the Pace: This will help your dog release pent up tension. It will also help keep Fido more focused on the pace than what the other dog is doing. Try a speed walk in sticky situations, a slow jog in more difficult ones, and a big burst of speed after your dog’s alarm bells have gone off. It can act a bit like hitting the reset button.
8. Walk with Authority: If you like to dawdle on your walk, you are much more likely to be approached by overly friendly strangers (and their dogs). Head up, eyes forward and walk like you are on a mission. Stop for nothing, unless safe to do so. Most people take the hint that you are busy and look for a more approachable passerby to engage with.
9. Breathe: Do not forget to breathe. Ahhhh, take a deep breath. It will help you AND your dog both relax.
10. Remain Calm: Your dog will feed off your energy, your reaction and your cues, no matter how subtle you think you are being.