Many owners will be able to relate to the experience of having a dog approach you and your dog uninvited, while their owner either does nothing or fruitlessly attempts to call or wrangle their dog! Those on that side of the encounter often, understandably, have very strong feelings about it. But what about those of you with friendly, excitable dogs who have been on the other side of things – getting a rough response from other dog walkers when your dog has gone over to say hello?
We know that everyone has different life experiences and sometimes it can be difficult to understand why these situations cause conflict, so we wanted to write a blog to explain some of the main reasons why it simply isn’t okay to allow your dog to approach a strange dog without permission – ever – and what you can do as a dog owner to keep yourself and your pup out of trouble.
Why is it important that your dog isn’t allowed to approach other dogs without permission?
First and foremost, we as dog owners/walkers have a legal obligation to ensure that dogs in our care are under effective control. As part of the dangerous dogs act, is it against the law for dogs to be dangerously out of control – this includes both public spaces, private spaces such as a neighbour/friend’s home or garden and even in your own home. Dogs can be deemed dangerously out of control if they injure someone or, importantly, if they make someone worried that they might injure them. This is a vital thing to remember because it means your dog can be deemed dangerously out of control even if they haven’t hurt anyone.
It is therefore important that your dog is either on a lead or has a rock-solid recall. If your dog is off the lead and approaches another person/dog and you are unable to recall them, you and your pup could quickly end up in hot water.
Another reason why it isn’t okay for dogs to approach strange dogs without permission is the risk to your dog and the other dog and walker’s safety. It may be inappropriate for your dog to approach the other dogs for reasons such as (but not limited to): the other dog has an illness or injury; the other dog is anxious/reactive; the other dog may be in season; the dog walker may be fearful of strange dogs; the dog walker may have an injury and not want their dog to pull them.
Allowing your dog to approach another dog without the other walker’s permission could result in a serious incident, such as an altercation between the dogs leading to a traumatic experience for one or both dogs or even physical injury to one or both dogs – as well as you or the other dog walker. It could lead to the dog walker being injured if their dog suddenly pulls, leaps around or tangles them up in the lead. It could also massively set back a nervous dog’s training – it can take months and even years to rehabilitate a nervous dog and a strange dog approaching can undo months and months of training, making it next to impossible for that dog to enjoy a simple walk outside and having a huge impact on their quality of life. All of these things are completely unfair to inflict on others, particularly when you have no legal right to have your dog off lead if you cannot recall them.
Respecting Normal Dog Behaviour
Even if the other dog isn’t ill, injured or reactive and there is no apparent reason why the two dogs can’t say hello, it is unreasonable to expect dogs and dog walkers to be forced to interact with every dog they come across. Dogs are sociable in a similar way to us humans – they like to build solid, long-term relationships and their interactions with strangers are usually brief and limited. Even for the most outgoing of humans, the idea that every single stranger you see on a walk would run up to you, invade your personal space and hug you is a daunting prospect and would quickly ruin the experience of a relaxing walk. The same is true of our dogs – perhaps that relaxed, friendly dog has just met three or four other dogs and actually doesn’t feel like meeting another strange dog and navigating that social situation. Maybe they had a busy day of socialising yesterday and just want to decompress and relax today. The same may be true of the walker!
Other people and dogs have the right to enjoy a peaceful walk and have their personal space and desire to avoid interaction be respected. It is rude and selfish to expect anyone you come across to be forced to interact with you/your dog, and it costs nothing to simply pop your pup’s lead back on until you have passed.
What can you do to ensure your dog doesn’t cause others a problem?
Fortunately, there are lots of things you as a dog owner can do to ensure your dog is under control, polite, well-socialised and can enjoy their walks without ruining things for those you cross paths with. Here are our top tips:
Invest in a comfortable harness, lead and a long line.
This will allow you to walk your dog safely wherever you go, no matter the distractions around you. A long line will even let you give your dog a run and let them stretch their legs, regardless of how reliable their recall is, as you can keep hold of the line should a distraction suddenly appear. It’s also a great way to practice your recall safely!
Invest time in training your dog.
Training shouldn’t be seen as optional for our dogs. It is vital in helping them learn how to communicate and exist peacefully in this human world they live in and it is enriching for our dogs, exercising their incredible brains and improving their relationships with us. Training is also a wonderful way to ensure our dogs can recall reliably and are able to walk nicely on a loose lead – this means that we can then enjoy our walks comfortably and worry-free, whether on or off the lead! Check out our Ultimate Lead Walking and Ultimate Recall masterclasses to perfect these invaluable life skills.
One of the most useful things you can do when out walking with your dog is to be observant and respond to other walkers’ signals! If you see another walker, call your dog over to you and maybe even pop their lead back on if you are unsure whether they are happy for your dog to greet them or you’re not confident your dog won’t go over uninvited. If they stop, move off the path, start working hard to distract their dog or head the other way – these are all big indicators that they don’t want to interact! You will probably make their day if you let them know your pup is under control and pop a lead back on. Even if your dog has good recall and usually ignores dogs, if you see a dog walker looking worried you can reassure them by popping your lead on any way as you pass!
If they seem relaxed and unworried, simply ask them whether or not they are happy for your dog to say hello!
These simple steps are all easy ways to improve your walks with your dogs and ensure you and other dog walkers can coexist peacefully! When you really think about it – why would you want your dog to approach a person or dog who isn’t happy to see them, anyway?! The last thing anyone wants is for their dog to have a traumatic experience, so there really is no benefit to putting your dog in that position to begin with. Taking these small steps to make sure your dog never approaches someone else who wants to be left alone will make their lives better, but will also help ensure your dog has nothing but good experiences – there will always be dog walkers out there who are happy to say hello and interact, so you and your pup aren’t missing out by respecting the wishes of those who would rather pass by undisturbed!