Polling all reactive dog owners and walkers

Out of pure scientific curiosity, I would like to pose a question to all those who have experience walking reactive dogs. It is based on a scenario I encountered last evening. I have a theory that I might be wrong about and I would be extremely grateful if you are able to take a moment to lend me your opinions. There are, as they say, no wrong answers.

No wrong answers, just like there are no bad dogs

No wrong answers, just like there are no bad dogs

Picture this:

It is a warm summer evening and you are strolling along a quiet residential street, enjoying the soft breeze and the rustle of leaves in the tall trees. Your best canine friend is walking next to you, stopping here and there to sniff at a tree trunk or blade of grass. As you pause to watch him, or her, investigate a pebble, you glance up ahead and realize things are about to get dicey.

On one side of the street you see a single large dog standing in a front yard. The dog is watching you with interest, tail swinging at medium height. This dog takes two steps toward you and you realize he or she is not restrained. Behind the dog you see the owner mowing the lawn.

Easy to handle, right? Cross the street.

Not so fast. When you look over, on the other side you see a five small dogs and another larger dog being walked by one person. The dogs have seen you and your dog and one emits a low growl. The dog walker is moving at a very slow pace and looks to be a professional based on the t-shirt he or she is wearing to advertise a dog-walking business.

Well, it’s unfortunate, but you will just have to go back the way you came.

Alas, when you turn around, you see two medium sized dogs being walked down the middle of the road on extendable leads. The dogs don’t seem to see you and neither does their owner who is talking on a cell phone. The owner stops by a car and puts the leash handles on the ground while he or she tries to unlock the door.

What do you do?

Thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts. Once I receive your comments, I will tell you what I did and why.

23 thoughts on “Polling all reactive dog owners and walkers

  1. I would stop and wait for the lady with the phone to get her dogs in the car and treat, treat, treat my dog. Depending on how far away she is, I can get him to sit.

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  2. Sadly, my dog would have gone ballistic, unless I had remembered to put his Halti halter on. He never misses not one dog, no matter where it is. And, it isn’t just dogs. If he spots another human, especially a child, he starts pulling. Using the Halti halter is the only thing that helps with this behavior. He doesn’t want to fight or maul anyone, just sniff or lick them.

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  3. My hands are sweating just reading this. It’s truly my nightmare – well, any one of those three! All at once? Sheesh. Here’s what I probably would have done: Turn back the way I came toward the person with the flexi lead dogs (fewer dogs in that direction!) Since they’re in the road, I would walk all the way up into the grass of people’s yards to put as much distance as possible. If there were any other cars parked on that side of the road, I would walk to “hide” behind one until the person loaded the dogs into their car. If there wasn’t a place to cover… I’d probably still put as much distance as possible, then yell to the guy something like “my dog is dog-selective, mind picking up those leashes as we dash past?” then do the speed-through while shoveling treats in his mouth.

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  4. Stumpy’s gotten pretty good over the last couple of years. I’d move off of the sidewalk/street and put her in a sit until I could see clear passage. She really feels safe in the sit position. She’s 8 now, so that’s years of consistent practice, it’s what we’ve always done.

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  5. I can feel my stress levels go sky high with that scenario! I would try to duck for cover like Maggie mentioned and make sure I have tons of treats. I would try to have Sam to lots of “sits” and “downs” and nose touches, anything to keep her engaged and not to get into the state of worry. Once one of the directions opens up, I’d make a mad dash and get to somewhere safe.

    Really interesting to hear what other people do! Great ideas 🙂

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  6. I’d probably walk up someone’s driveway, hiding behind a car if possible. And wait till there’s clear passage. Mr. N also settles down better if I hide his eyes providing he hasn’t seen the dogs yet so I’d do that too.

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  7. Oh my! I know this stress on nearly a daily basis. I live in a big city and the area I live in is super dog friendly. Which is awesome, except for when I’m trying to pass other dogs by.

    I would just try to push through in whatever direction I needed to headed. I try to first calm myself because my heart starts pounding, I start sweating, and I grab a handful of treats. Barry is pretty good. MOST OF THE TIME. Small dogs don’t interest him as much as big dogs, so if the two dogs on the retractable leashes were small then I’d likely head that way. If they ignore Barry, Barry MIGHT ignore them. It’s kind of unpredictable. I always know that no matter what, Barry won’t try to hurt the dogs, he never barks or growls, he just wants to get to know them so badly that he whines and pulls hard in the direction of the dog.

    Typically, in the end, it’s not as bad as I’ve made it out to be in my mind. Once I get past the dogs and Barry bounces around and pulls and sniffs all is fine.

    By the way, I would never hire a dog walker that walked that many dogs at once – UNLESS they were all from one household. That is way to many dogs for a dog walker to be walking otherwise.

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  8. This obviously depends A LOT on your own dog and how well you know him/her. Personally, I would go with the dog walker/small dogs with Rufus. If the dog walker looks like a professional, chances are she will have the most control over her pack. I also know that Rufus is the LEAST reactive around small dogs, so he will be easiest for me to control in this situation.

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  9. For Felix, we would do two things. First, I assess which of the three is least likely to cause him undo stress. In this specific case, probably stopping exactly where we are.

    Then, I would sideline us as far off the side walk as I can, turn Fe’s body so it’s facing away from the approaching medium dogs. While we are sidelined, I ask for a variety of behaviours that are simple, but require his focus, chaning up the behaviour I ask for and in which order I request them. (ie. sit-down-stand-down-stand-sit). We continue this until either the medium dogs have been loaded into the car or until they are passing us. IF Fe should happen to notice as they pass, I may place a firm hand on his back and remind him to chill, which usually diffuses any outburst.

    We’ve been using the Sophia Yin protocol to work on his reactivity and every week, we’ve been letting this scenario play out closer and closer to the approaching dogs. After about 6 months, I can confidently pass small dogs in groups of one or two with out a reaction, single large dogs with only a mild reaction (leash pulling, no barking) and we are still using the sideline method above for large groups of dogs, distracted owners or multiple big dogs. It’s made a HUGE difference.

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  10. I would remind Misty easy taking it slow and with me (which reminds her to focus on me). Treat then head purposely towards the dog with the law mower. Maybe he could use a new friend.

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  11. Fortunately, my boy’s reactivity is over the top excitement with barking and lunging to try to say hi rather than attack, but it still looks and sounds awful. I grab onto his harness and body block then do my best to march him in a safe direction while using body language to ward off the other dog.

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  12. Similar scenarios have happened to me including: a dog jumping out of a (non-moving) car window, a dog busting out of an open gate, a dog jumping over a fence, and various dogs dragging broken chain. I always change direction no matter if it means going back home. But if ALL paths were blocked, I’d move off the sidewalk as far as I can and stand still, making it clear that my dogs do not want to play with your dogs, until the others have passed.

    If a loose dog approaches, I usually pray.

    One blogger I know was walking with her dog, and her father had her other dog, when they saw a man distracted on the cell phone, his dog got loose and attacked her dogs. One dog was injured and later died. The father was also injured. Tragic beyond words.

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  13. Depending on how closely the dogs on the flex-leashes were to me, that would be the way I would head. I would pull out my best treats (lamb lung) and I would get her attention and do my best to get her past them.

    At this point Delilah has gotten so she looks to me for treats when she sees another dog, like someone else said, it’s me that’s freaking out.

    I’m curious to hear what you did.

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  14. My dog is small so I would pick her up, walk past the free range dog and lawnmower man, set her down, and keep going. I am guessing that is probably not the answer you were looking for.

    Plan B would probably be cross the street quicly and try yo get ahead of the dog walker lady or cross and get in behind her to walk the other way.

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  15. In those no-escape situations, I didn’t know what to do, until I once freaked out, yelled “STOP”, made the stop-signal with my hand, and acted like a crazy person. When they avoided me – who wouldn’t want to avoid a crazy person – I realized, it worked, so that have been my strategy in these kind of situations ever since.

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  16. Morgan is at a point that I think if we stayed where we were and started working on some sits and downs, I could have distracted her long enough that the person could have gotten in the car or the dog walking group went by. Also, I’m so used to her behavior at this point, that if she did bark at some of the dogs, I’d just keep talking to her and wait it out anyway.

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  17. Great question and like so many things, “it depends.” Considering relative distances, any other environmental triggers (loud trucks, lawnmowers, etc) and whether any of the distracted dog owners *start* paying attention, I’d have done a combination of the following:
    1) Pick Glenda up & back up a driveway & wait it out. 40 lb dog but can be done. This is a big, obvious signal to the other dog owners. Often they will then collect their dog/s.
    2) Put a parked car between us and all the other dogs if possible. Sometimes the geometry works that we can circle the parked car to keep it between us and other dog as they pass.
    3) I have little faith that the distracted humans will hear/listen, but might try announcing calmly but assertively, “my dog needs space.”
    Curious to learn what you did and what Shiva thought of it!

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  18. I would end up doing something similar to Glenda’s mom’s #1 scenario, though my dog is closer to 50 lbs. Unfortunately, Pearl’s reactivity is not under control and if another dog is in her field of vision at all she will lose her s***. She would react here no question. I would just have to protect her and the other dogs as best I could and get out. We are taking slow steps but it takes very little to put her over threshold.

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  19. This is my worst nightmare when I’m waking Laika. I’m anxious just reading it.

    I honestly don’t know what I’d do, I think I might try and cross then get ahead. It seems like a lose, lose situation.

    It’s funny just before reading this I was reading one of the great articles the Huffington Post has put up about Pitbulls; the statistics they showed were that breed plays no difference in likelihood of an attack. 87% of the time dog attacks happened when the owner didn’t have/couldn’t control/were distracted.

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  20. Jen Jelly, I SO believe that statistic!

    My problem with Jasper is bikes and jiggers, but when he and Cupcake are together on a walk where leashes are involved and another dog is approaching, they bark like mad dogs. They are fine when they meet the dog, but before is horrendous unless I have treats. I would have gone way off the road.

    It’s funny, but as a former dog walker, I would have been just as panicked seeing the loose dog on the other
    side of the street as you were. I also would have been worried about the distracted woman with the two dogs being loaded up, so maybe heading that direction would be safer, because the walker probably already has a right control over the dogs. Seeing what you were seeing would have gotten the same panicked feeling.

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  21. At this point BD would have taken a dislike to the dog that growled at him. I think I would try to find a spot to step out the way and let the dogs get past. Ideally while distracting BD with his tennis ball!

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  22. Pingback: Update: What Shiva and I did to avoid disaster | Rescued Insanity

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