Dog Behavior: Dog to Dog Interactions: Off leash or uncontrolled dogs approaching your dog who is on leash can be very difficult to manage, especially if the leashed dog is reactive or fearful.
My neighborhood dog walks are beginning to feel like I’m in a video game, trying to safely get through all the unleashed dogs, although I choose to walk in areas where dogs are supposed to be leashed. My “mission” is to keep my dog safe and free from harassment from other dogs, as she does not enjoy having her personal space invaded by dogs trying to make contact with her. As a professional dog trainer, I am very serious about my responsibility to protect my dog, maintain her trust, and never leave her feeling the need to protect herself. However, the other dog owners in my environment appear to be unaware of my perils, and some seem to be thwarting my attempts.
I encounter dogs who are supposed to be leashed, running loose, on a regular basis. Although this is against the law, I would not strongly object if these dogs were immediately recalled to their owners upon sight of another person or dog. However, many of these dogs are not able to return to their owners when called in the presence of a distraction such as another dog. Some owners don’t even attempt to call them away! A few weeks ago, 2 small dogs, both off-leash in an on-leash area, began running toward my dog as soon as they spotted her. As I am forced to consistently scan my environment for potential off leash dog issues, I noticed this immediately and stopped a good distance away, to allow the owner to try to get her dogs back. However, her dogs were clearly too excited to deal with this distraction and return to her. Reluctantly and after considerable struggle, the owner was eventually able to get close to the dogs and pick them up. As she walked past us with both dogs barking in her arms, she glared at me and said, “They’re harmless”.
Statements such as this, and “It’s okay, he’s friendly”, yelled out as their dog runs up to another dog, are no doubt spoken by a person who has never owned or encountered a reactive dog. Not all dogs are tolerant of other dogs getting into their space while they are restrained on leash, and some may react aggressively. While your dog may be “friendly”, invading the space of another dog trying to mind his own business is considered rude in the dog world. The dog being approached may respond negatively. For owners attempting to keep their reactive dogs under control by avoiding off leash situations and trying to maintain adequate distance to keep their dog from feeling threatened, this situation is their worst nightmare. I have had countless responsible clients with reactive dogs ask how to deal with this situation. Unfortunately, there is no good answer for this question, besides to do the best you can to keep everyone safe.
Please keep in mind that while your dog may be “friendly”, if you are in a designated on-leash area, it is not fair to force other owners to deal with the stress caused by your uncontrolled dog approaching their dog. If your dog is off leash, kindly call him to you when you see another dog approaching. Get him under control, and allow the leashed dog to pass by without interference from your dog. If your dog is not able to come to you immediately when there are other dogs present, he should not be off leash. Having your dog under control is not only considerate, it is the law.