In this blog post, I’ll address some dog walking etiquette issues I’m seeing on a more and more regular basis over the past few years.
As an experienced dog owner for over 40 years, I’ve handled dogs of all breeds and sizes. Yorkshire Terriers, Jack Russells, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Newfoundlands are just a few on my list. I’ve experienced dogs that are very social with other animals as well as reactive dogs.
What continues to concern me is the frequent disregard for proper dog walking etiquette that I witness on a daily basis when out walking the dogs in my care. And over the past 3 years, I have noticed an increase in these incidents where the dog walker or pet owner is not showing any respect for others or concern for the safety of their own dog.
While there are no strict ‘laws’ about how to conduct dog walking, using common sense and being considerate of others is essential.
Here are some key dog-walking tips to ensure safer, stress-free outings in public spaces:
Unsolicited contact when dog walking
Firstly, let’s talk about “unsolicited contact”. This refers to situations where a dog invades another’s personal space without an invitation, typically when walking off-lead in a public space like a field, park, woods or forest. These public spaces are typically used by dog walkers with dogs of various temperaments.
Picture this: You see a dog on a leash ahead of you. If your dog tends to approach others, it’s wise to leash it as a precautionary measure. Remember, there are three main reasons why dogs are kept on leads: they lack good recall, they’re reactive, or they’re in an area that mandates leashing.
Be prudent and assume the worst-case scenario – in this instance, the oncoming dog might be reactive.
Having an attitude of, “My dog is sociable so can be let off lead.” isn’t going to help your dog should it be attacked because it’s approached a reactive dog. Neither is an attitude of, “If your dog is reactive it should have a muzzle on.”
The onus is on you, as a dog walker or pet owner to ensure your dog is always under control when being walked in public spaces. Therefore, if you know your dog has a tendency to go over to other dogs to say hi, then you are putting your dog in harm’s way by allowing it to approach a dog on a lead.
A personal experience: Recently, I was walking a 45kg German Shepherd, a friendly chap but a bit too exuberant and reactive when confronted with other dogs that show aggression. On a local recreational ground, a woman was tossing a ball for her poodle to chase.
When I entered the ground I spotted the woman and dog on the opposite side of the field. I was walking the GSD around the perimeter of the grounds and assumed that as we approached the woman and her dog she would either move towards the other end of the field or put her dog on a lead.
However, as we got closer it was clear that she was not going to do either. I then, for the safety of her dog, started to deviate from our path to ensure space was maintained between the two dogs. As I did this, her poodle decided to come running towards us from around 30 metres away. As it approached it was showing clear aggression towards the GSD who then reacted to this threat.
Fortunately, due to my extensive experience with large breed dogs and strength to control the GSD I was able to keep it from getting hold of the Poodle. The woman made very little effort initially to come and collect her dog, choosing instead to call it from 30 metres away. Her dog was completely ignoring her and fixated on acting aggressively towards the GSD to I was doing my best to keep off the Poodle. The woman walked over still showing no urgency whatsoever in securing her dog and removing it from a potentially serious situation for her dog. After about 2 minutes of me wresting with the GSD whilst the Poodle ran around us yapping at the GSD she finally got hold of her dog.
At this point, I strongly advised her of the danger she had just put her dog in. Unbelievably she tried to put the blame on the GSD stating, “My dog never attacks other dogs!” to which I simply asked, “So what did we both just witness?”. The woman was clearly upset and in tears as presumably she realised that the incident could have resulted in severe injury to her dog had I not had the experience and strength to keep the GSD from getting hold of her Poodle.
People are always quick to judge larger breed dogs assuming they are aggressive. But the GSD was showing absolutely no interest in the Poodle until it came charging at him.
Reactive dogs in off-lead dog walking designated areas
Switching gears, let’s discuss the flip side – dog owners who take reactive dogs to designated off-lead parks or fields. These places are meant for dogs with good recall and non-aggressive behaviours. If you own a reactive dog, be respectful of sociable dogs and their owners. Such interactions are beneficial for their pets, and off-lead areas are limited. Remember, the onus of ensuring the well-being of all dogs lies on every dog owner.
I recently frequently took a couple of dogs in my care to an enclosed dog walking park in the Forest of Dean. The vast majority of the dogs that attended were sociable when approached by other dogs or simply ignored other dogs. However, there were incidents where a dog walker or pet owner would bring a reactive dog into this ‘safe space’ and whilst their dog was on a lead, it didn’t have a muzzle on and would then act aggressively to any dog that approached it or went by.
If you know your dog is reactive to other dogs approaching it, and you know that the park is used primarily by sociable, non-aggressive dogs then have consideration and walk your dog elsewhere. If your dog were to attack another in a secure, off-lead designated field then it’s always going to be at fault in the eyes of the law. Why risk your dog’s existence (if your dog killed another it may be terminated itself) by taking it into an environment you know is a risky one?
Use common sense and always make decisions that are in the best interests of your dog.
Walking with your back to oncoming traffic
Finally, a word on traffic safety. A common sight that never fails to ruffle my feathers is seeing people walk dogs along roads without sidewalks, back facing the oncoming traffic. This practice severely limits your ability to anticipate and react to potential hazards. Walking against the flow of traffic affords you the advantage of gauging any possible threats, providing you with crucial seconds to move out of harm’s way.
Furthermore, position yourself between the dog and the passing vehicles when walking along roads without sidewalks. It’s easier to push your dog away from a threat than to pull them. Also, ensure you use a short lead to restrict the dog from crossing into the path of oncoming traffic unexpectedly. Your body effectively acts as a barrier, preventing the dog from straying onto the road.
To wrap up, dog walking is more than just a daily routine – it’s a blend of responsibility, awareness, and consideration for others. While these dog walking tips might seem trivial, they can significantly enhance the walking experience for you, your dog, and those you encounter along the way. It is our collective responsibility as dog owners to create a harmonious environment for our furry companions and ourselves. Here’s to many more years of peaceful and pleasant dog walking!
Do you have anything to add? Please do comment with your thoughts below 😄
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