What many people are absolutely unaware of is the potential, stressful, fearful or compromising position dogs are put in when they are on leash and other dogs approach, mostly at what should be happy times – greetings.
I consult with owners of dogs every day that have not had an opportunity to develop their dog’s early primary and/or secondary socialization skills. As a result, some dogs become fearful and are not comfortable being around other dogs. This is sometimes further complicated by being on leash.
When a dog is put in defense drive he will choose one of two options:
1. Flight – he will distance himself from that which he is unsure of, or deems a threat. This is usually the preferred option, especially for more submissive or softer tempered dogs.
2. Fight – if flight is not an option for the dog, then the dog is forced into fight or bite. Oftentimes, the more dominant dogs choose the fight option versus the flight option.
If a dog is cornered and would prefer to diffuse the stressful situation by leaving, but doesn’t feel that option is available (when he’s on leash) then he reverts to the other option – fight or bite. If you keep your dog on a tight leash, this can illicit that same emotional stress in dogs because they feel they do not have the ability to leave. And unfortunately, owners invariably tighten up on a leash when they feel their dog is going to pull or lunge towards another dog whether friendly intent or not.
Dogs have distance increasing signals or warnings: a throaty growl, growl with a lip raise, an air snap or a lunge and bite. A dog will choose to offer up any one of these distancing signals depending on how they interpret the threat. Some threatening factors include the speed of the approaching dog, the proximity of the approaching dog to them, the size of the approaching dog, the gender of the approaching dog and whether or not the approaching dog is intact or not and more. In addition to fear in dogs there is resource guarding. Many dogs guard things they consider having high value like chew bones, Kong toys and yes, you the owner.
Here’s an example: Le’ts say that it has been your Sunday morning ritual to take your dog and sit outside a Starbucks enjoying your Latte Grande or your tall coffee (room at the top for cream of course) and reading your Sunday paper. Your dog is lying by your side working on his Kong toy and reading the “Daily Growl”. All of a sudden the peace of the morming is interrupted by your dog lashing out at another patron’s dog who is innocently passing by and your dog looks like the bad guy and you know he’s really not.
Here’s my advice on meeting other dogs in public: Greetings should be pleasant, never approach another dog unless you ask the owner if it is okay to do so. Remember to always ask “may my friendly dog meet your dog?” Give owners an opportunity to keep their dog and themselves safe and stress free at that moment.Don’t be one of those dog owners who allows your dog to get in another dog’s face.
If you have the dog that’s not good at greeting other dogs, be aware of that and don’t set your dog up to fail by not paying attention to the situation and the surroundings.