Friday, 11 October 2019

Lead etiquette

I was reading an online forum post yesterday, written by an owner of a young Golden puppy, she was asking for advice on dog lead etiquette after her poor pup had been bitten by an off lead dog on their walk. It put me in mind of when Polly was younger and bitten whilst on the lead and how that has since affected her lead behaviour in certain situations, so I thought I'd share my thoughts and experiences here, in the help they might help anyone else with similar issues as I know firsthand how a flare up on lead can easily knock both the dog's and the owner's confidence. 

The following tips are based on my own experience with Polly and the work we have done and continue to do, to help us cope better with lead walks. There will of course be other views on how best to cope with lead situations. I think it is a case of getting to know your own dog's potential responses to other dogs as well as you possibly can, building a strong bond with your dog and having the confidence to protect your dog adequately.

The following are my preferred methods of dealing with on lead situations:

Meets on lead can be fraught with potential problems as not all owners have good control of their dogs, some dogs are walked off lead and have little or no recall and not all dogs react well on a lead, causing them to be unpredictable when in close proximity to your dog. Bear in mind, being on lead puts your dog at a distinct disadvantage in confrontational situations as his option to take flight has been removed. 

Here are a couple of simple pointers I use for lead walking: I keep the lead as loose as possible and resist the temptation to pull tight if there is a dog ahead, to avoid giving my dogs the message there may be a problem looming they need to deal with. Secondly, if I do need to pass an oncoming dog, I give as much space as possible by curving away from the oncoming dog and owner as this is read as a non-threatening approach by most dogs. If you can't achieve a good space to pass, teach your pup to turn with you and walk back towards a wider space to allow safe passing. 

My girls have been taught to sit and wait for the other dog to pass quietly as this shows the other dog they don't wish to interact, however, bear in mind, this is a big ask for some dogs as it may make them feel vulnerable. In an ideal situation, my preference is to keep moving forward if there is sufficient space to do so safely, using an encouraging voice, loose lead, treats if necessary and putting myself between the dogs where possible. I also always say a friendly but brisk hello ahead of passing, so that my dogs hear I am in control on their behalf, relaxed and have decided it is safe to move forward.

I taught Polly and Betty a verbal 'walk on' instruction so they know not to greet without my permission whilst working, ie lead walking. I found obedience classes really helpful for this.

I think most dog walkers are far too polite when an off lead, oncoming dog suddenly appears on a path ahead. In the past I know I tried to pass loose dogs while Polly was politely on her lead. I kept my fingers crossed and reluctantly trusted owners who called out 'he's fine, don't worry!' It was rarely the best course of action in hindsight and often made my girl anxious to be faced with a potentially unpredictable dogs in narrow spaces such lanes, for example. Consequently, she would occasionally decide to lunge and bark, to tell the dog it needed to back off , which wasn't much fun for either of us. As my awareness and handling confidence improved, I learned it hadn't been fair of me to leave the decision to Polly; after all, I was her handler, her owner and therefore, should also be her protector. My advice now (hard learned!) is never be afraid to call out to request that an owner put their dog back onto the lead. If that owner refuses, stop calmly in your tracks, encourage your dog into a turn (better still, teach it as a verbal cue), then quietly retrace your steps away from that owner and their dog ... it may add a few more minutes to your walk, but far more importantly, it may also protect your dog from suffering a confrontation with an off lead, out of control dog, which puts both you and your dog at serious risk of injury.

If an approaching dog is off lead while yours is on lead but approaching calmly and slowly, you could try stopping where you are and giving it a moment to decide to return to his owner .. don't make eye contact, just show you don't intend moving towards him. Usually this will result in off lead dog stopping his approach, not always, but if he isn't racing up to you initially, just heading your way, it may work.

Always give the owner enough time to lead up before you begin moving forward.

Next scenario: when an on lead dog is heading your way and your own dog is off lead, what do you do? In my view dogs shouldn't be walked off lead unless they have a solid recall and owner can turn them quickly when necessary but many owners believe it is okay to walk their dogs off lead with minimal or no recall training. I know, go figure! So, most sensible dog owners will tell you, it is polite to put your dog back on lead if another dog on lead is being walked towards you as you really can't tell whether a leaded dog is likely to react to your dog being off leash, or how your own dog will react, so why risk a confrontation? If you want your dog to enjoy off lead fun (and they should!) work hard to train a good recall - being able to call him back to you safely and quickly will be the best thing you ever teach.

It can be very helpful to teach pups to greet when you give permission. My girls are given a 'say hello' cue when I am happy for them to interact and they wait for that cue to be given before going in for the nose to nose greeting. This gives me time to ask an owner if they mind their dog saying hello and it also has also taught my dog that we don't have to say hello to every dog we meet on walk, we can take our time in getting to know regular, friendly dogs and their owners instead.

Important to keep in mind: Blind corners can be very tricky areas between dogs on walks, so always approach such a corner slowly, listening really carefully for oncoming activity, before exposing your own dog ... most dogs prefer to have space ahead/around them and no surprises! Corner confrontations can be unexpected and the sudden flare-up horrible to deal with, so do try to keep your dog by your side, rather than ahead of your, whenever you approaching a corner.

Ditch your mobile phone! It always amazes me how many people are completely unaware of what is happening ahead of them and their dog simply because they are engrossed in their phone screen or are wearing headphones to listen to music (please don't get me started on that one!!!) Responsible, safe dog walking either on or off lead, requires the owner's total awareness at all times.

To summarise, there is a fine line between teaching your pup how to behave socially, but also how to stay safe. They aren't always good at reading other dogs' body language to start with, so it is important that you the owner, learn as much as possible about dog body language to help you see/sense the potential for problems arising on a walk. There are some great books on this topic available - if you are interested, I have listed some of my favourites if you scroll down the right hand column of my blog.

My apologies for such a long post, but I really wish I had this information when I first started lead walking with Polly six and a half years ago, rather than having to learn the hard way.

I hope this post is helpful if you are concerned about keeping your pup safe and also, being a polite, responsible dog walker.

Wishing you and your dog, safe, fun, happy walks!


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