The other day I went rollerblading with my German Shepherd, Havok. I can’t tell you how many dogs we passed that were reactive, aggressive or uncontrolled. It was rather obnoxious. Fortunately, there are ways to protect your dog from other dogs while on walks. In this blog, I give you FIVE TIPS to do just that!

These tips will help you enjoy your walks, feel safe, and be in control of the situation. Happy Trails!

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Neeko and his dad

1. Put your dog on the right side.

By putting your dog on the right, you put yourself between your dog and dogs you pass on the trail. You also put more space between the dogs.

2. Look ahead.

Having good SA (situational awareness) is a must. Knowing what’s coming allows you time to prepare and take precautionary measures if needed. I always look as far ahead on the trail as possible to see who’s coming.

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Trainer Dana with student, Zeus

3. Assess the situation.

When a dog is approaching, do a quick assessment.

Is the dog leashed? Is it a long leash or a short leash? Is there slack in the leash, which would allow the dog to come closer to you, or not?

Next, take a quick look at the collar of you can. Is it loose? So loose the dog could twist out of it? Or is it properly fitted?

Then, look at the owner. Is the owner clueless? Reeling their dog in? Continuing to walk with a long leash and a zig-zagging dog?

Now, finally and most importantly, look at the dog’s behavior. Red flags would be body stiffness, hackles up (hair standing on the back), hard eyes (staring at your dog), closed/hard mouth, a tail that’s up high and stiff or wagging only slightly, and of course growling, barking and/or lunging. Some signs of a dog who’s probably friendly are relaxed posture, full body wiggling, indifference (body language doesn’t change as you approach), excited vertical hopping (not lunging forward) and open/soft mouth.

Initially doing steps 1-3 in your SA assessment will probably take 10-20 seconds. As you get more skilled and practiced, you’ll be able to do it in a matter of seconds.

Now that you have a better idea of who’s coming, it’s time to react accordingly.

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Group training

4. Give space.

If the dog approaching appears unfriendly, or out of control, move over. Especially if the dog’s leash is giving the dog the freedom to go anywhere he wants to go.

If I feel the dog is safe and/or under control, I bring my dog in closer move over to the far right of the sidewalk.

If the dog doesn’t appear safe or controlled, I will look for a place to retreat. This could be a turn-off in the path, the other side of the road, or an area several feet from the trail itself.

What’s funny and frustrating is that my dogs are so social! They can pass even the nastiest of dogs without reacting whatsoever. By moving over, however, I am setting myself up for success AND just as importantly, I’m signaling to the other dog’s owner, “Your dog doesn’t appear to be controlled or behaved, so I’m doing what I can to not have an altercation with your hot mess of a situation.

Some people are offended when I go out of my way to show my contempt for their situation. And, truthfully, some people say nasty things to me.

During our stroll, a lady with her two dogs (one small, one large) on flexi leads zig zagging across the whole path was clearly offended by me stopping and waiting for her to get her situation under control. She goes, “My dogs won’t hurt your dog ya know!” ha!

What’s funny to me is her big dog was an accident waiting to happen. He was tense/stiff, and side-eyeing us the whole time. He’s like the rude guy in a bar that stares everyone down. All it’ll take is one drunk dude looking for a fight and BAM- disaster. “Thanks, lady, but I’m gonna hold off on passing your little train wreck,” I thought to myself.

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5. Have a backup plan

Screaming does nothing to break up a dog fight. You need to have a plan. What will you do if a dog comes at your dog and attacks him? Pepper spray only helps if you’re upwind and don’t get any in your own eyes. A leash could help so you can throw it around the other dog’s neck and choke him off your dog. Some people carry a baseball bat or other forms of protection on walks.

The sad truth is, it’s not if you pass an aggressive, reactive or out of control dog- but when. Even the dog who “look friendly” sometimes aren’t. About a third of the dogs I pass on the Greenbelt trail here in Boise are one form of HOT MESS or another.

Every once in awhile we pass a well-behaved dog, and you bet I say something. Just like how, as a parent, it’s nice to hear from a stranger how well-behaved your kid is, the same goes for dogs. Don’t be shy. Toss a compliment out there! I always say something like, “Great job with your dog’s training. He’s really well-behaved!”

You can enjoy walks with your dog. Chances are nothing bad will happen. But bad things DO happen and you can increase the odds of it NOT happening to you by following my five guidelines above.

Happy trails!

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