Twice this week I was out walking and had the heart-pounding experience of being rushed by an unrestrained dog. There’s nothing that gets the heart rate up quite like hearing the heaving breathing and jangling collar of a dog’s rapid approach. In both cases the dog was called off the chase by a fast-acting and firm owner. And happily, the dogs were trained to respond to verbal commands to stop. But this made me wonder what I can do to better control the situation should it get out of hand. It is far better to have my own actions to count on rather than simply hoping that the dog has an ingrained sense of boundaries and will stop his charge at the edge of his yard.
This situation takes on an even greater series of factors if you are out walking your dog. Suddenly you have the potential for two unpredictable behaviors to come into contact. While you can control what you do and you can, to some extent, control and train your dog to have a certain response, you have no ability to control the other dog or the instinctive response his behavior triggers in your pet.
Here are some of the basics for understanding why dogs might charge you and your dog on a walk and how you can diffuse any situations where another dog may become aggressive.
Why do dogs charge?
Dogs function on some instinctive suggestions. There is the boundary mentality, where a dog does not want any other thing, person or animal, to trespass. A dog may act aggressively to warn you that you’re getting close to his territory. Additionally, dogs have a prey or chase instinct that can be triggered by moving objects. This is a reason why some dogs like to chase cars. It’s simply for the fun of pursuing something. When you and your dog walk by, you are providing the perfect object for a dog to chase. Finally, a dog may respond to having an unfamiliar dog in the area. In some cases, the new dog will simply want to get acquainted, in other cases, the dog may act aggressively to demonstrate his superiority.
How to train yourself
There’s a great number of things you can do to protect yourself and your dog while you’re out on walks. First, be familiar with your area. Know your neighborhood and know the houses and areas where you are most likely to encounter other dogs. Get a feel for the temperament of the dogs in your area. Know which dogs are normally restrained (by a leash, tie, or fence) and know the houses where dogs might be roaming the yard. Be aware of your surroundings. If you know a dog is usually confined to the back yard but you notice the back gate is open, be cautious of the area or even consider changing your walking route to avoid the area altogether.
It is also important to be aware in cases where a dog gets out of the house. It’s very possible that an unrestrained dog can escape through the front door. I inadvertently surprised two dogs and their dog owner by walking in front of their house just as they were coming out for a walk. One excitable dog escaped out the door before the owner was ready. This goes to show that knowing your neighborhood is important but it’s just a first step in keeping you and your dog safe.
If you find yourself in a situation where an unrestrained dog is approaching you, resist the urge to run away. Remember, the pursuing dog may be responding to its chase instinct. If you increase your pace, it turns into an invitation for the dog to follow. Instead, train yourself to slow down. Don’t make eye contact since the dog may understand that as a challenge, but don’t turn your back on the dog either; you still will wan to know where the unfamiliar dog is. If the dog gets close enough, firmly command it to stop or go home. Don’t show fear. Assert your authority. Additionally, the best thing you can do is train your own dog to respond to your commands. I’ve seen one suggestion to train your dog to stop and look at you whenever a new dog is approaching. Remember to reward and praise this behavior to help it take root. This puts you in control of the situation. This can protect you and your dog in any situations where another dog is bothering you.
Check out future blog posts for more information about handling situations with unfamiliar dogs.
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