Dog Walking 101
Your daily dog walk can soon transform into a political minefield when other parents are involved. What should, in essence, be a highlight of yours and your dog's day can escalate into unsolicited opinions, awkward encounters and unsatisfied dogs at the end of it all.
We've all run into someone on a walk who has something to say about our own dogs. Whether or not they should be on a lead, whether or not their manners are up to scratch, whether or not their behaviour is appropriate, and many other very welcome and immensely interesting comments. Who we meet is, unfortunately, one aspect of our walk we cannot manage, and this leaves it in our own hands to ensure that we are in control of every walk and every encounter along the way and not at fault for any social blunders that might occur...
If your dog does not have a strong and reliable recall around distractions, they should not be off lead in public environments. If your dog has great recall 1 on 1 with you, but you cease to exist as soon as another dog appears, they should not be off lead in public environments.
It is unfair to let your dog bound up to others without permission; perhaps the other dog is elderly, perhaps they don't like other dogs as much, perhaps they are injured or in recovery and need to take things slowly. Unless your dog can ignore others until you give them the all clear to interact having done so yourself with the other owner, your dog will need to be on a lead until they can. Recall is important during play, too. If an interaction is escalating, becoming too excitable or rough, or if one party simply isn't enjoying it, you need to be able to call your dog away quickly and easily.
There is also the simple matter of safety. If your dog does not have a strong recall and is tempted by someone or something else more exciting no matter how far away, they run the risk of falling into trouble - traffic, unsafe terrain, private property, livestock, unsocial dogs to name a few. HELP! I need to work on my Recall...
LEARN THEIR LANGUAGE
It's important to understand the intricacies of dogs' body language as a species, and not just your own dog's characteristics and quirks, to be able to read and monitor your dog's interactions. A key distinction is loose vs. stiffness; loose and 'waggy' body language, bounciness, play bows and relaxed movements are all indicative of a dog that is happy to say hello. Stiffness, sudden stillness, intense staring or vocal cues such as snarling or growling generally mean it's best to keep a safe distance until instructed otherwise.
Likewise during play, you need to be able to tell quickly if the mood changes. Excessive pinning down, unreciprocated chasing, sudden stiffness, growling, obvious roughness or discomfort for any parties involved is instant cue to call your dog away, return on lead and move on.
RELAX If you are nervous about bumping into other dogs on a walk, if you tense up, hold the lead taughter or closer, speed up or begin to chatter "it'sokdon'tworryit'salrightyou'llbefine!!!" at whatever it is that sets off your anxiety, you are going to trigger a similar response in your dog. They can pick up on our nerves and uncertainty exceptionally quickly, and this can cause their behaviour to change. Anxiety, fear, territorial or protective behaviour and even aggression can come out in our dogs when they sense something amiss with their humans.
The more relaxed we approach each challenge on a walk, the more confidently and successfully our dogs will do exactly the same. Too often parents overlook how important, if not fundamental, their own behaviours are in conditioning the way their dog behaves.
If you have the above three mastered, there's not much else can phase you on your daily walks. What's more, it will never be your dog at fault or at risk when out and about. All's left to master then is patience and grace with the humans, and that is certainly something we aren't qualified to train you for...!