Imagine you’re walking down the street when a woman you’ve never met spots you. From a distance, she starts shouting, “Hey! Hey you! Hi! Hello! Hi! Hi! Hey!” She moves rapidly toward you as she shouts, comes right up to you, throws her arms around you and swings you off your feet.
As you shout in dismay, her friend comes up and says, “She just loves people.” You push her off you and give her a shove. “Leave me alone!” At this point, your spouse grabs your upper arm firmly, gives you a shake and sternly warns, “Don’t be rude!”
Ridiculous, right? It is, but our dogs are often put into this scenario with similar results.
I’ve seen this very event time and again with people and their dogs. I’ll be walking with my well-mannered dog at my side. My dog is spotted by another dog, who begins to bark loudly as it charges up to mine and jumps into the middle of her. As I attempt to wrest the badly-behaved mutt off my dog, the owner inevitably says, “Oh, he just loves other dogs!”
Most of my dogs will tolerate this behavior, but a couple of them will growl at the boorish beast. Without fail, the other owner will look offended, as if my dog is the one misbehaving. The fact is, this type of behavior is not friendly. It is rude and antisocial, and the calm dog who growls or snaps back is not behaving aggressively but merely instructing the other dog to back off.
We teach our children to interact politely with others. We need to teach our dogs the same thing. Learning to be calm and approach unknown dogs with respect is a vital part of the socialization process.
Let’s look at a different scenario. My dog Callie is a very sweet girl. She does great with obedience work and loves people. She’s great with kids; they can hug her, pull on her ears, tug her tail, and she’s fine. She likes other dogs who are calm, and will greet them pleasantly and even play with them. If a young, hyper dog runs up to her, she will assume a very upright, stiff posture, and if they jump on her, she will growl and snap at them.
Do you think I have a badly-behaved dog? Let’s reword this and see. “My daughter Callie is great with people who are calm and well-behaved. She interacts with them appropriately. She’s very patient and kind to children, even bratty ones. But if loud, obnoxious teenagers get in her face or start pushing her around, she tells them to leave her alone. What should I do about her?”
If I came up to you and described that scenario, you’d think I was ridiculous. Of course my child should have the right to tell obnoxious teens to stop bothering her.
Why should your dog not have the same right?
If your dog is lunging, barking or growling at other dogs, you have a problem. If, with no warning, your dog attacks another dog, you have a problem. If, when your dog corrects a rude dog, the other dog is badly injured, you have a problem. If, however, your dog responds with a loud “attack” sound and doesn’t touch the other dog, snaps at them but doesn’t connect, or connects without breaking the skin, you have a dog practicing good bite inhibition and trying to teach the other dog some manners. Rather than scolding your dog, learn to protect her from such situations so that she’s not forced to defend herself.
How can you protect your dog? Learn to watch the environment if other dogs are present. If an out of control dog runs up to yours, step in front of your dog and with words and body language tell the other dog to back off. If the owner appears and gives you the much affronted, “he just wanted to play” or “he just wanted to say hi” line, be bold. Tell them their dog is rude and it’s not logical to expect other dogs to be jumped on and mauled about by strangers. Recommend they leash their dog, and if they’re at all open to dialogue, try to get them to see things from the other dogs point of view.
Teaching our dogs to behave calmly and appropriately around other dogs is critical. Defending your dog from badly behaved canines, and standing up for their right to discipline dogs who do not behave, will go a long way in strengthening the bond between you and your dog.
Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.