In this spirit, I recently took my dog for a walk on a local trail to practice. As you can see, he is not a Pit Bull. He is a big, fuzzy retriever mix who is still learning how to behave on the leash, and he benefits greatly from the classes. On the trail, I kept him on a short leash, and was using high-value treats to keep his attention focused on me, just like we do in class. Things were going well, and we had passed several dogs without incident. Then, I spotted a young girl coming from the opposite direction with a large, husky type dog wandering back and forth across the trail in front of her at the end of its leash. This is the kind of thing that makes my dog nervous, so I decided to play it safe and pull off to the side to wait until they had gone by, rather than pass too close to the oncoming dog. We got as far off the trail as we were able, and I put my dog into a sit, facing him to block his view of the trail and the other dog, and got him focused on me. I was doling out the treats and he was responding well. I was really proud of him!
Suddenly he barked and lunged forward. I heard a gasp from behind me, and turned around to see the young girl pulling her dog back across the trail, looking horrified. While I was facing my dog, the girl had allowed the husky to cross the trail and approach from behind my back to “greet” my dog, in spite of what I thought were my obvious attempts to avoid them. The husky’s nose was just reaching forward to touch my dog’s when he finally decided he’d had all he could take and snapped at him. I jumped a mile and yelled something we won’t print here, and the poor young girl at the other end of the husky’s leash backed away, dragging her dog with her.
Bear, retriever mix, takes the Our Pack training class.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Yes, the husky’s owner shouldn’t have allowed her dog to approach like that, but the handler was a young girl, she didn’t know any better. I turned my back on the other dog, focused on my own dog, and trusted that my actions would let the other owner know not to approach. I guessed wrong. And as you can see from the pic, my dog isn't a Pit Bull. He is a big, fluffy retriever mix, which the husky’s owner no doubt assumed would love to meet her dog!
What’s the lesson here? If your dog is leash reactive, you must practice "defensive dog walking". Similar to driving a car, you look all around from one side of the road to the other confidently. We are responsible for our dog as well as others' dogs. What should you do in this situation? It’s okay to stop to get control of your dog, but face the other dog, with your dog beside and behind you. Use your body language to take charge. If your tries to come forward, block him or her with your body, keep a firm hold on the leash, and claim your space, calmly and confidently. Let them know in no uncertain terms that they should keep their distance. Don’t be shy! And don’t assume the other dog’s owner knows what to do, regardless of how obvious you think the situation may be. YOU are responsible for your dog, and that includes protecting your dog from unwanted advances by other dogs and their well-meaning handlers.