Finger pointing is not part of the agenda, but it’s time for dog owners to admit to themselves, that most of the time, dogs misbehave because of their owners’ reactions. Having a dog is not a walk in the park, though it’s surely fun and beneficial to (literally) walk your dog in the park, it only takes spotting another dog walking towards you for all hell to break loose.
When things like this happen—your 30 kg Labrador barking and lunging on an approaching garbage collector—your usual reaction is probably tensing, panicking, fumbling while trying to command the dog to sit. Is that right?
This reaction is so common that most dog owners don’t even realize that this is what’s creating the problem. When dogs misbehave, most people judge them as a menace. They compare them with their neighbor’s dog, who is always quiet and friendly even with strangers—and finally conclude that they have probably gotten the wrong dog breed.
See through your dog’s eyes
Dogs aren’t born wanting to snap at other dogs and people they don’t know. It’s not innate for dogs to want to bite or eat humans and other animals because unlike carnivores, such as lions, crocodiles, or their close relatives (wolves)—dogs aren’t predators. Dogs often get reactive, meeting other dogs and people while on a leash, because of fear rather than aggression.
Respect your dog’s personal space
Like us, dogs value personal space, even much more than humans do. While your idea of fun could be seeing and greeting friends while walking your dog, it can be extremely uncomfortable for them. You should not expect dogs to understand what sort of interactions are harmless, while you’re letting another dog or walker invade their space.
Try these simple steps in solving leash reactivity in your dogs:
- Next time you walk with your dog, avoid alleyways, tunnels, and any narrow paths where they could feel vulnerable when someone approaches.
- Stay in the middle of fields, rather than skirting in corners and bushes.
- When you see a dog approaching, breathe calmly, relax your hands, and turn to another direction. Don’t clutch firmly on the leash or make sharp breaths for your dog can sense when you’re panicking.
- Calmly ask your dog to go the other way in a cheerful tone. Create enough distance from your dog and the advancing individual.
- Praise your dog and yourself for not freaking out and being a trooper in handling the situation.
- Practice doing this often, which also mean go out more and look for advancing dogs to test your progress. It would be fun the next time around.
- Remember the two most important things: keep the distance and be as calm as you can.
Although you’re panicking in your head, don’t fret—dogs are not mind readers. But they do sense your anxiety through vocal tone and body movements. So, whatever happens, relax your body and keep your voice cheerful, not agitated, or stern.