You’re walking your dog on a fine spring day, enjoying the exercise and the warmer weather, when your dog spots another dog walking straight toward you.  Your dog begins to bark, pulls at the leash, lunges for the other dog, acting as though he’s ready for a fight.  What do you do?

From our observations of these situations, it seems many people don’t know what to do.  Many seem embarrassed by the behavior of their dogs; others laugh as if they think it’s just what dogs normally do (particularly if the dog is small), and allow their dogs to continue to be out of control.  Still others jerk on the leash, pull the dog back to them and/or reprimand the dog.

Such canine antics are neither funny nor normal dog behavior.  On the contrary this behavior can be dangerous.  Some dogs behave this way because they are merely overly excited, anticipating greeting another dog who may be a playmate.  Some dogs never intend to be friendly at all, but rather are threatening when they bark and lunge.

In either case, both people and dogs could get hurt.  In all the excitement, your dog could pull you over or tangle you in the leash causing you to fall.  If your dog gets close to the other dog, she might jump on the other dog or the other person, causing the other dog to become defensive, and a fight could ensue.

Reprimanding or punishing your dog is unlikely to change her motivation, though it may suppress her behavior.  It may also make the problem worse or even cause your dog to re-direct aggression to you or to others (even another dog you are walking) who are near-by.

suz-dan-coral-12-297x300Regardless of your dog’s motivation, having better control of your dog is a necessary first step.  There are several types of head collars and no-pull harnesses that are more effective than any traditional collar around the neck.   If you suspect your dog is aggressively motivated toward other dogs, the safety of others is of prime importance.   Your dog may need to wear a muzzle when on walks, or you might need to walk her at times or places where you aren’t likely to encounter other dogs.   A Calming Cap® (now known as a Thunder Cap®) can greatly reduce your dog’s arousal level.  You’ll need professional help to modify your dog’s behavior, and to help you select and use the correct equipment.

In the meantime, when you see other dogs at a distance, call your dog close to you, and either have her sit quietly next to you, or look at you as the other dog walks by.  Keep the leash short to prevent movement toward the other dog, and simply walk in another direction to avoid the other dog.  Use tasty food treats to get and keep your dog’s attention, and to reward her for following your directions.  A good trainer can help you and your dog learn these skills.

We, and most of our colleagues, have come to the conclusion that allowing dogs to meet and greet each other while leashed on walks is just not a good idea.  There are just too many ways greetings can go wrong.  We’ve encountered too many out of control dogs, and our dog Coral is now fearful of most other dogs, and would just as soon not meet them.

Walks are still enriching and enjoyable to Coral, as they are to all dogs, because she gets to sniff trees and bushes, and look for birds, making each walk an adventure.   Walking is still great exercise for us and for our dogs.

Dr. Suzanne Hetts and her husband Dr. Dan Estep are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. They provide professional behavior education services online, and resources to prevent and resolve pet behavior problems to both pet pros and pet owners. Coral, their diva-dog Irish setter provides daily inspiration. www.AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com