Dog-owners puzzle endlessly trying to see what it is about that fifth dog that sets theirs off.
They wander down sidetracks and byways wondering whether it’s always black dogs, small dogs, pointy-eared dogs … without finding an answer.
They find their dog unpredictable at best, frustrating and worrisome at worst.
And embarrassing all the time!
But tipping over into losing it isn’t confined to dogs.
Let’s look at an everyday scene at home: you’re racing to get the dinner ready so your kids can go out to sports practice on time. The pan is just coming to the boil and the phone rings. While you’re drying your hands and making your way to the phone, you hear urgent knocking at the door, just as the pan boils over. You’re at breaking point!
One moment you were in control of everything – then a couple of random things happened that tipped things over. The next person to speak to you will get snapped at!
So it is with dogs.
Wallflowers or Social Butterflies
Your dog may be fearful or she may be desperate to meet other dogs. Either way, passing them on the road can be stressful as she is constrained by the lead and can neither fight nor flee, nor rush forward to greet.
The first dog may go by without comment. The second may be more active and hot-diggedy and raises a canine eyebrow or two. The third is a yappity terrier who’s not sure about your umbrella so eyes you sideways with head down. The fourth is a bit anxious and excitable and maybe barks at your dog.
Now the hapless fifth dog comes plodding along minding his own business, clearly not interested in anyone else.
WO-WO-WO-WO-WO!! Your dog can’t contain herself any longer.
This parade of different dogs with different issues must stop! And the best way your fearful dog knows to keep other dogs away is to look ferocious and bark at them.
And if you have a super-friendly young dog, he can’t control himself any longer and just has to try to get to this fifth dog.
Take a Dog’s Eye View
Try and look at things from your dog’s point of view.
1. Distance is very important to dogs
If they’re uncomfortable about anything, the best thing to do is to put some space between you and the perceived hazard.
Walking along the road – in a confined area with walls, hedges, shops, parked cars hemming you in – means that you are limited in the distance you can make.
The stress of being too close can build in your dog till it reaches the level where it overflows.
2. Notice your environment as your dog does
Sounds. Smells. Traffic volume. Lots of big lorries clattering by? Children playing? People shouting? Dogs barking? Noisy wind? Banging? Thunder? Cyclists speeding by?
All these things can build stress in a young or fearful dog.
Once you get good at noticing these “triggers”, you’ll start to develop a sixth sense about what is going to be the last straw for your dog, and take early evasive action.
Sometimes you can just turn and walk away happily.
And sometimes you could just sit on a bench, wall, or tree stump, and watch the world go by without having to fight your way through it. Lots of tasty treats posted into your dog’s mouth will help to calm him. As you see him begin to relax and stop scanning the environment and focus more on you, you’ll be ready to set sail again.
3. Use a long lead – at least 6 feet in length – and keep your hands soft
It’s very tempting to react yourself before your dog does! If you clutch the lead tight and start breathing fast, your dog will be saying “What? Where? Who have I got to bark at?”
Giving him some freedom on lead – instead of shortening the lead and keeping him close up against you – will allow him to express his own body language to the oncoming dog. The freedom for your dog to look away at the crucial moment can be all that’s needed to defuse a simmering situation.
Maybe you got a dog in the first place hoping that he’d be super-friendly and sociable, and mix freely with other people and their dogs.
But you have the dog you’ve got instead. And I’m sure you love him dearly!
Keep in mind that most dogs are reserved and don’t particularly want to approach others. The bouncy ones who come flying in to greet everything that moves are in the minority, and considered by many dogs to be a bit infra-dig.
And remember also that the other dogs you are passing are at least as stressed by this close proximity to a strange dog as yours is!
Give them some space and everyone will be happier.
Beverley Courtney, author of the forthcoming book “Calm Down! Six Steps to a Relaxed, Calm and Brilliant Family Dog”, lives in Worcestershire with her four dogs, cat, hens and many tropical fish. She mainly works with puppies and “growly” dogs, always looking to build the bond between dog and owner. Get your free e-course My Dog Doesn’t Like Other Dogs: How to Stop the Barking and Lungeing: a step-by-step course to changing the things you don’t like about your dog to the things you do like.