So, you're a dog owner. You aim to walk your dog outdoors. And this is where the problem begins because your dog's behaviour towards others is not acceptable. The challenge is two fold: Other people and dogs trigger undesirable feelings and actions in your dog; Other people and dogs are outdoors.
"How do I stop other people letting their dogs come up to mine?" is one of the most common questions I'm asked at work, and although I don't have all the answers, I have a few suggestions that may help you.
I recommend sitting down with a drink, paper and pen for the next part. You may be working through this section for some time and you'll need to be comfy. I highly recommend strategising on paper rather than in your head as you'll find more solutions and better results.
Out of the box
Ask yourself some worst-case-scenario questions and force yourself to write down 5 suggestions for each scenario. Yes, they're silly questions! But you will be surprised at the helpful ideas you discover by running through them.
- If my dog was a VIP hiding from the paparazzi, where/when/how would I walk him?
- If I turned into a blueberry like Violet Beauregard, where/when/how would I walk him?
- If I were facing a zombie apocalypse where/when/how would I walk him?
- If my dog was the zombie where/when/how would I walk him?
- If there was an outbreak of contagious canine disease, where/when/how would I walk him?
- If my dog were injured (restricted exercise), what activities would I provide instead of walking?
Write down 5 answers for each of these questions
- Find a map with topography symbols. Google maps will be okay for this. I'm currently using Ordnance Survey route planner
- Where looks built up?
- Where looks visually open?
- Where are car parks close to walking-space?
- Where would owners be forced to keep their dogs on lead for road safety?
- Where are trails with lead restrictions (sheep, ground nesting birds)?
- How about open properties such as National Trust and English Heritage sites?
- How about local facilities eg privately hired training fields or equestrian centres?
Make yourselves uninviting
- You can be uninviting to approach without being rude or scary
- Let your body language speak for you. Stop, slow down, make a point of turning away. Most people will avoid you if you demonstrate this body language
- Work on your "No". You don't have to suit strangers, they're not entitled to interfere with your dog
- Ditch your embarrassment. Do what you have to do to keep everyone safe
- Let your dog wear a muzzle. Get one that's basket style, comfy and brightly coloured. Find out how to teach your dog to LOVE wearing their muzzle. Try BUMAS
- Keep your dog on a highly visible lead
- Experience has shown me that engaging in polite chat leads to people overstepping the boundary you're trying to create. ("It's okay, I love dogs!" "My sister is a dog trainer" "Mine used to be exactly the same" *Stranger comes closer*) Keep language short and to the point eg "no thanks", "don't touch my dog", "no".
- Keep your dog happy by keeping your smiles, attention and chit chat especially for them
Take off the pressure
- Find private activities and exercises in place of walks
- Make the few walks you take about connection and training, not timing and distance
- Get comfy, highly-visible equipment for you and your dog. Shock absorbing leads from Tuff Stuff and Perfect Fit Harnesses are my favourites
- If your dog can slip their collar because they have a tapering neck, use a martingale
- Connect collar and harness so that if one is slipped the other is still secure
- Sometimes you will meet a person or dog, despite your best efforts. Know that by training and following some of the above suggestions, your dog will cope better and develop greater resilience to one-offs
Ultimately you will need to invest time and effort into dog training so that you won't have to avoid other people on walks. Avoidance is not a long term solution and it's a pretty miserable (but necessary) state of affairs. While you box-off your dog's training, you have to do something new. I hope these suggestions help you and please let me know which ones you try and how you get along. Comments below!
Until next week, with love from Lucy x