The Problem with “Friendly Dogs” and “Just Saying Hi”

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The exact words vary, but the same thing happens over and over and over again.  A friend is walking her reactive dog (or her non-reactive dog who doesn’t like being rushed by other dogs) on a leash, and an off-leash dog runs toward them.  My friend yells to the dog’s owner, “please get your dog.”  The unleashed dog’s owner responds, “but he’s friendly.”  My friend responds, with greater urgency, “My dog is not friendly.  Please get your dog!”  Unleashed dog’s owner says, “but he’s just trying to say hi!” and mutters something about bad dog owners and dogs that shouldn’t be taken out in public, gaining control of unleashed dog in the nick of time, and leaving my friend’s heart pumping at having narrowly avoided an altercation.

This happens all the time, to me and to many of my friends.  We can try to prevent other dogs from approaching our dogs, but we can’t control what another dog’s owner does.  So what can we do?

First of all, do whatever is necessary to ensure your safety, your dog’s safety, and the safety of the approaching dog.  When “My dog is not friendly. Please get your dog!” doesn’t work, my friends and I have resorted to:

  • “Grab your dog or I’ll mace him!”
  • “My dog will attack yours, so you better grab him.”
  • “My dog bites.” (whether true or not)
  • “Grab your —-ing dog!” (not the approach I’d recommend)

Second, we need to educate the owners of “friendly dogs.”  They may not be thinking, or paying attention to their dog, or they may simply not realize that this kind of dog interaction is risky.

So how can we get through to owners of “friendly dogs”?  And what information do we want to convey?  This is what I would like every dog owner to know:

  • It doesn’t matter if your dog is friendly or “just wants to say hi.”  Many dogs are NOT friendly when approached by other dogs, so, for your dog’s safety, NEVER let your dog approach another dog without asking the other dog’s owner.  Many dogs are uncomfortable with on-leash greetings (or one dog on-leash and one off-leash), and many are uncomfortable with nose-to-nose greetings.
  • There are many reasons a dog may need space or a dog’s owner may want to avoid an introduction.  They may be training, sick, anxious, reactive, a service dog, etc.  Please respect the dog’s owner’s wishes that you keep your distance.
  • For everyone’s safety, obey leash laws.  An off-leash dog rushing an on-leash dog is extremely threatening and can easily provoke a defensive response and get hurt.

I think we need to be proactive, rather than trying to educate people after their dog has rushed ours, or while it’s happening.  Dog greeting safety should be an important part of new dog owner education and should be emphasized in basic obedience and manners classes.  Those in the dog community could take advantage of opportunities to educate dog owners — at vet’s offices, adoption events, dog competitions, and other dog events.  Dogs in Need of Space or DINOS (http://dogsinneedofspace.com/) has a number of helpful handouts, including their “Ask First!” poster, that can be downloaded and printed for posting and distribution, or ordered from Cafe Press.  Using a pre-printed poster or handout may make it easier to get the point across in an unemotional, nonjudgmental way.

We all want our dogs to be safe, but “friendly dogs” can pose a danger.  We could minimize this danger by educating all dog owners in dog greeting safety before incidents happen.

Rebecca Randolph is a blogger, writer, artist, and attorney, but most importantly, a dog mom.  She assists her lab Garth with his blog The World According to Garth Riley (www.twagr.com). 

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