Let me start by saying that the puppy magnet is real. I get it. You see a dog, you want to pet it. It’s natural. You see a puppy, you want to run up to it, pick it up, talk to it, snuggle it, name it, take it home with you and raise it as your own…
Time to get a grip. The truth is that, just like any environment or situation you might find yourself in on a day-to-day basis, interacting with someone else’s dog is a scenario in which any number of circumstances could be at play that you have to identify and decipher before taking any action.
Think of each dog you may encounter as its own anchor point, a furry, moving, wiggling, wagging anchor point. In theory, there are a limited number of select people who are “allowed” to approach that dog and enter into its personal space on any given day. The criteria for entering that space differs with the personality, temperament, and history of each dog. In my dog’s case, all you have to be is a human with hands that could be scratching him and he’ll let you approach him (if he doesn’t approach you first) with zero hesitancy. However, this is not always the case. Think of service dogs and police dogs on duty who are not to be approached, touched, or pet by anyone other than their owner or handler. Every dog you encounter should be treated as if they have that spatial boundary around them until you’ve gotten a read on the situation and made contact with the owner.
Let’s take the act of dog walking as an example, as it’s the behavior of a dog’s owner that is often the best indicator of whether you will be allowed into the space of the anchor point that is their dog. It’s no different than the scenario of approaching a group of people and using behavioral analysis to determine group relationships and dynamics. Dog walking is a situation that dog owners find themselves in likely multiple times a day, and it’s a scenario where you can use multiple principles of situational awareness to read universal signs of human behavior to be conscious, respectful, and ensure you have a good experience while avoiding potentially dangerous encounters for you and your pet.
Interactions with other dog walkers and their canine companions is perhaps one of the biggest wildcards that can come up during a walk. When a dog and their owner is approaching, think about the four clusters of human behavior that we teach at The CP Journal, how they apply to those around you, and what that means for you and your dog as you potentially interact (or don’t interact) with them.
Is the dog walker being overly dominant with their dog, perhaps keeping them on a tight leash or making themselves larger, standing over their dog to display control. This could mean that the dog is not on his best behavior that day and could be a loose cannon during an interaction.
Is the approaching dog walker displaying submissiveness? Perhaps they accidentally let slip that they’re taking their dog to the P-A-R-K, and they have zero control over their excited dog as they get pulled along. It should be easy to spot this dog owner, likely both by the exasperated look on their face and the out-of-control exuberance of their pet, and that dog is likely too excited to have a low-key interaction.
Is the dog walker uncomfortable, perhaps displaying some apprehension or worry whenever someone new approaches or their dog sniffs something new on the ground? Maybe they’re a new dog owner and this is a new environment for them, meaning it might also be a new relationship for the dog as well, and the owner might not know how the dog would react to meeting another of his breed quite yet.
Perhaps the dog walker is comfortable. They may have had their dog for quite a while and be confident that the dog is trained, knows what to do on the leash, and is respectful of people and other dogs when meeting them. Even if a dog walker is displaying this type of comfort and control, though, it does not give you a green light to let your dog interact with theirs. Always check your read of the situation and talk with the owner before the sniffing and playing between your dogs begin.
Getting left of bang isn’t always about just avoiding attacks. It’s also about reading situations and avoiding those interactions that might become confrontational, uncomfortable, or potentially dangerous. Dog walking and interacting with pups is just one of the many everyday situations you may find yourself in where understanding and being able to identify behavioral cues is hugely helpful in ensuring a positive experience. The next time you’re out with your dog, think about what behaviors you might be displaying, what approaching dog walkers, joggers, and bikers might be displaying when they spot you and your dog, and what those reactions mean to how you will interact when you cross paths.