Arts & Leisure

Dear Homeward Bound: Unleashed dogs

Dear Homeward Bound,
I am so excited! It feels like spring is just around the corner and my dog is as eager as I am to get out and start taking walks again … all those smells! I am worried though because I’ve had some bad experiences when my dog and I have met other people with dogs and those dogs are not on a leash. The people always say “Oh, he’s friendly” but it is still stressful for me because my dog is afraid of other dogs and we both get anxious when an unleashed dog comes around.
What can I do to prevent loose dogs from stressing out me and my dog when we are out on a walk?
Curious
 
Dear Curious,
Most cities and towns have some form of leash laws on the books for a reason. They are an important public safety tool and also protect dogs. Unfortunately there is nothing you can do about people who disregard them, so instead here are some tips on how to handle it when another dog owner flaunts your town’s leash laws.
Basically you have two approaches — you can play defense or offense. If you wish to play defense you’ll want to always be aware and scanning your environment when walking your dog so that you can spot loose dogs before they are suddenly upon you. This will also give you time to assess the body language of the loose dog and see if it is soft, happy, and friendly or if the dog is staring at you, head and tail high, and moving directly toward you —the latter is clearly more dangerous and you will want to think about if there is a way to get your dog out of the way quickly. If your dog is small, you can pick him or her up but please be aware of your personal safety. When you’ve spotted a dog from a sufficient distance you can always alter your route to avoid a meeting and the unnecessary stress.
You may want to consider a personalized leash that says NERVOUS or NEEDS SPACE. These often come in bright colors and can alert others that you and/or your dog do not want to be approached. If your dog gets stiff and hyper-focuses on approaching dogs you can always carry a few treats to keep him or her paying attention to you as you move past.
If being defensive about loose dogs in the area you walk doesn’t work you can think about going on the offensive and stopping or blocking the other dog’s approach. Most dogs will respond to a clear, firm command to “Stop”, “Go Home,” or “Stay” accompanied by a raised hand facing out. If you are walking with another person, one of you can hold your dog while the other walks firmly toward the loose dog calling out a command. Similarly, if you see a person in the vicinity of the dog you can respectfully request that they leash their dog.
Thank you for asking this important question; I hope it has prompted people who own happy-go-lucky dog-friendly dogs to think about what it’s like for owners of more nervous, fearful, or traumatized dogs. And I hope the ideas here have given you some confidence in how to handle the situation when it next faces you.
Happy Walking!
Jessica Danyow
Homeward Bound
 

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