Every day I take my German Shorthaired Pointer out for a private one on one walk. He enjoys the obedience work we do and it gives him a chance for some private time with me. He also has a few bugs we’re trying to work out with confidence.
However, I often find myself in the same predicament each time – there’s off leash dogs everywhere! And if they’re not off leash they lunging and barking at us from behind a fence. This is stressful for myself, my dog and the dogs we’re passing.
It’s also a perfect recipe for disaster.
I live in a very urban area with traffic so that alone poses an issue for dogs being off leash. Owners need to be aware that even though their dog may be extremely well trained we cannot predict the behaviour of a dog in all circumstances. It’s all too often that I see a post about someone’s dog who has been hit by a car. Let’s just prevent this all together and use a leash!
It also causes other dog walks or pedestrians to feel worried. We don’t know if your dog is friendly. Or maybe your dog is so friendly you don’t think about the fact that mine doesn’t like being approached while on leash. If your dog runs up to mine he’s going to be greeted with a growl and I’d hate for that to turn into a fight as you’d be setting back my dog significantly on the year of practice we’ve been doing on appropriate greetings since he was attacked by an off leash dog in an on leash, urban area.
Another issue is the dogs lunging and barking behind fences. You might think this is a great way to keep out burglars and you may be right! But your setting your dog to develop all sorts of frustration issues including reactivity and aggression. Rather than allowing your dog to lunge and bark at the fence, practice your recall and call your dog away then reward. Dogs should never be left unattended outdoors to bark and lunge at every person and dog that goes by. You are setting yourself up for trouble and stressing out the neighbours.
So taking a walk around my neighbourhood can feel like navigating a mine field. Here’s a few things I do to help my dog relax and enjoy the walk that you could try too:
- I use a Freedom Harness as well as a Gentle Leader. My dog is a big boy at 72lbs and I want to ensure that I’m not engaging his opposition reflect by using a collar around his neck and that I can have two points of contact to allow him to relax instead of pulling into his equipment. Having a good fitting harness or head halter or both can set your dog up for success.
- Some tasty treats to distract him in case we run into a stressful situation. One of the first things I do is to keep my dog’s focus on me – even when changing directions or crossing the street to avoid a problem. I’ll put out a tasty treat and get him to remain calm and trusting that I am handling the situation so that he doesn’t have to (aka escalate himself into barking and lunging fit too).
- Ensure my dog has enough space from the distraction to be successful. I will cross a street or change course completely. If another person is walking their dog and that dog is lunging and barking then we are 100% going another way. Same goes for dogs guarding yards. I don’t need to put my dog in that situation or yours. We will always make space. As a courtesy I make a curved U pattern past pedestrians too. I don’t assume people will just be comfortable passing my dog and I don’t put my dog in a position where he could be grabbed unexpectedly by someone meaning well.
- I am aware of my neighbourhood and where the problem areas lie. We plan our route so that we can have enough space or avoid those problematic yards with guarding dogs especially when the fences are in need of repair or low in height.
- I stay up beat and talk pleasantly to my dog on our walks. I tell him what a good boy he is and try to have a good, happy energy. The nice thing is that it usually improves my own mood even if I start off a little stressed or grumpy that day. And by the end of the walk we’re both feeling great!