I was walking a client’s dog last week in a relatively quiet DC neighborhood, like I do every week. The dog, Patches, is a scruffy little terrier with a long body and stubby legs. Patches is scared of other dogs. I’ve been working with Patches to help her feel less nervous around other dogs, including making sure she’s never put into a situation she can’t handle when it comes to being around other dogs on leash.
On this particular walk, however, we found ourselves in a difficult situation: with an off-leash dog running right up to us! The owner must have noticed how I was frantically trying to put myself between Patches and the charging dog, and they finally called their dog away – but poor Patches was already in a worried frenzy, barking and pulling at the end of her leash. This interaction was sure to cause a setback for her, and the worst part was it could have all been avoided.
Even though I was frustrated with the owner of the off-leash dog, this walk with Patches made me think about how not all owners are familiar with the needs of some dogs. So here are some dog walking tips that will help all dogs and handlers feel more comfortable when they’re out in the world:
1) Leash laws, leash laws, leash laws. I know it’s kind of a drag that I bring this up first thing, but out of respect for those of us with dogs who don’t love other dogs running up to them, following leash laws is very important. Dogs who cannot socialize with other dogs have every right to share space where other dogs might if those spaces are regulated with leash laws to keep everyone safe. If you want to run your dog off-leash, there are plenty of places to do it legally!
2) Always ask to say hi. Even if the other owner doesn’t seem to be actively avoiding you as you walk up, it’s still important to ask if your dogs can meet. Some people aren’t great about speaking up that their dog doesn’t want to say hi, or they feel embarrassed asking you to stay away. For both your dog’s safety, and the safety and the comfort of the other dog, simply ask the owner before letting your dog approach.
3) Keep moving, please! If you do see a dog barking at your dog, or seeming like they’re having a difficult time as you pass by, please keep moving! Dog owners sometimes stop and stare as another dog reacts to the dog they are walking. The best thing you can do in this situation is keep moving along and enjoying your walk.
4) Give your own dog space. If you have a barky dog who sometimes doesn’t do well with other dogs, instead of testing it at each introduction, you might want to consider simply moving off the path as you pass another dog. I know it can feel embarrassing when your dog barks at other dogs, and a lot of times simply increasing your distance from another dog will help your dog feel more comfortable! Space is really your best friend when it comes to passing unfamiliar dogs.
No two dogs on the street are the same, so no two interactions will go the same way. It’s important that owners advocate for their own dogs, as well as respect the other dogs they come across. If we are all a little more courteous towards each other, everyone is more likely to have an enjoyable and safe walk with their best friend.