Does your heart sink when you hear those words? You’re not alone.
You see a bouncy dog, hurtling towards you while their owner shouts those often-heard words from a great distance away. The problem is it may not OK. Not for you or for your dog.
You spend countless hours training your dog, you socialised them correctly as puppies, you’re careful to not allow them to run up to every dog that they see and yet, in a matter of seconds, all that hard work can be undone by the actions of one dog and its owner. All it takes is one encounter with an out-of-control dog and your dog can be left terrified and with reactive behaviours. By ‘out-of-control’, I don’t necessarily mean a dog that will attack another dog, it can simply be a scenario where a dog has not learnt to have manners around other dogs, it doesn’t have a reliable recall, or the dog thinks all other dogs want to engage in play. A potentially dangerous situation.
A few months ago, I had my youngest dog on a lead when a Pomeranian type dog ran up to us, teeth bared and started to lunge at my dog. The owner wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I put myself between the dogs and blocked contact with my body. Meanwhile, the dog’s owner finally appeared shouting “it’s ok, he’s a rescue”. When I asked the owner to put their dog on a lead, I was told a) I was overreacting, b) that’s how dog’s talk to each other and c) he didn’t need to be on a lead. Sadly, they were wrong on all counts but obviously weren’t aware that in all likelihood the dog was scared and what it was showing was fear-based aggression. It was their responsibility as an owner to put the dog on a lead so that they were in control and so the dog didn’t get itself into trouble by running up to a possible reactive dog who might attack it.
Although such incidents are frustrating, I believe that the problem is more one of a lack of awareness on the subject rather than a lack of care. I doubt very much that the majority of owners want their dog to cause another dog emotional and/or physical damage when they set out for their daily walk. They just aren’t aware that dogs are not all the same, and they don’t all like each other. Just like we don’t instantly like everyone that we meet, neither do our dogs. They therefore don’t appreciate the importance of training a reliable recall. I’m sure most people would react in anger if a complete stranger ran up to them, jumped on them & shouted “hey, let’s play!”. I’m not trying to humanise dogs, but it is clear that, like us, they have preferences.
There is also the element of the unknown to consider. Because one dog is friendly to all other dogs it doesn’t mean that they are going to be received in the same friendly way. One day they may run up to a dog who could attack them without warning – it’s just not worth the risk.
You shouldn’t feel awkward about protecting your own dog. Or feel bad about asking another owner to put their dog on a lead if it’s encroaching on your dog’s space. It’s OK to let them know that a dog could be on a lead for a number of reasons (illness, training, post-op recuperation, nervous, in heat etc). The law states that a dog must be under control in a public place. If a dog doesn’t recall to someone immediately on being asked, it is deemed as not being under control.
We need to challenge the belief that all dogs like and want to play with each other, so that people become aware that this is not the case. Just think how enjoyable dog walks would be if every dog you came across had either a reliable recall or was on a lead. Not just enjoyable for us, enjoyable for our dogs too. And that’s all any of us want at the end of the day.
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