Some years back I was at a crowded dog event with Tex my three-year-old American Bulldog. Tex has always been a stickler for doggy etiquette. If a dog approaches him that is balanced and easy going he greets them well. But if a dog is exhibiting unbalanced behavior; either too excited, dominant or too submissive he tends to want to take control.
I know my dog, I know these things about him because I pay close attention to him when we are in an environment with many distractions and possible triggers. During the event a family walked up with a Goldendoodle. Immediately I could tell the dog was young and the way the dog was greeting Tex was not polite. The dog got right in his face and started licking his mouth and turning her body and bumping up against Tex’s body.
I could tell that the family thought their dog was the sweetest dog in the world and was just saying hello in her own, cute way. They laughed and said for her to calm down but didn’t do anything to stop and/or correct her. As an experienced handler and trainer, I was seeing rude and improper behavior and I knew it would bother Tex. But something stopped me from warning them off.
I wonder if you have felt that way before? Maybe I did not want to make the other dog owner’s uncomfortable or maybe I was hoping that Tex would not react at all. Or maybe I didn’t want them to think that my dog was dangerous and that I could not control him. But the bottom line was that I did not disengage and soon Tex lashed out and corrected the dog.
Tex did not try and hurt her and he did not press the issue because the young dog backed down. As a responsible dog owner, I should have politely started moving away from the young dog as soon as I saw something that would trigger him to react. At a moment like that you don’t want to make any sudden moves to spook your dog so don’t pull or jerk on the leash because that could trigger a strike. Just simply move away in a calm manner.
Don’t get caught up in what people think of you or your dog if you remove yourself from a situation that you know you cannot handle. Most people do not understand dog etiquette and if your dog lashes out then your dog is the bad dog. And truthfully it may mean that you and your dog need more training together. You may need to do a bit more leadership and behavior modification work with your dog to let them know he cannot make those decisions too quickly. But if you stay in the situation and do not make the decision yourself, your dog will react because they think they must.
Tex lashed out but did not bite the dog he just used sound and his size to bully her away from him. The young Goldendoodle was not hurt at all and I spoke to the family later to be sure there were no hard feelings.
Looking back, I wished I had not been concerned about appearances and separated the dogs more quickly. Repeated negative encounters can cause our dogs to associate other dogs, and people with a bad experience and cause them to be nervous when approached. As you see a situation developing that you feel might cause your dog to react, watch them closely for the signs of nervousness.
One big sign is stillness. It is said that if a dog locks their eyes on something for longer than two seconds they are targeting. But looking away can also be a sign that your dog is uncomfortable.
Here is a great article on various signs that could tell you that your dog is uncomfortable.
You know what kind of dog training you have done, and you know how your dog reacts to certain situations and you know your dog’s triggers. If you don’t then you should learn them. Start off by using distance to observe your dog reacting to things. Stay at the edge of the crowd, walk around a group of people you and your dog do not know. If you stop and talk with people, stay back several feet and watch your dog’s reactions. Keeping your distance will help your dog stay more relaxed and give you time to see how they react.
Learn your dog’s limitations and know your own limitations and avoid situations where you feel weak or where you and your dog feel pushed too far. Don’t worry about perceptions or what other people think or want, do what is best for your dog and your continuing growth together.
Most of us want our dogs to fit in and be social but the truth is not all dogs are completely comfortable in social situations. Dogs are different just like people and we should not force them in to uncomfortable situations just because we want to. That is why you learn where your dog’s threshold is and stay behind it and IF they become more comfortable you can go beyond that threshold someday.