About Etiquette

I’ve been a keen observer of humans and how they behave when they meet.. There seems to be set rules about how they greet each other and position themselves. Sometimes they get really close and bring their mouths together (YUK!) sometimes they stay quite apart and don’t touch at all. Usually they seem to know what to do and when; but it’s not always so, and I can see them getting all worked up when the other human just doesn’t know how to behave.

It’s the same for us dogs. It would seem that some owners think that all dogs can get on with each other and know exactly what to do when we encounter fellow canines. Isn’t it strange how for humans, it is polite to walk towards someone whereas for dogs it can be very stressful, even threatening. You see we don’t do eye contact as much as you, it really is rude to stare in our world and no wonder we get agitated if we are being propelled along head on towards another dog “because they are bound to want to meet each other!”

All the owner may be conscious of is their friend or neighbour striding towards them with their dog. From where I am, the perspective is very different and I have no opportunity to give the calming signals that canines would usually send out before any form of socialisation takes place. This is all made harder if I’m on a lead, which restricts my head movement, such an important element of my non-verbal communication.

So what would help me out? Well giving me the choice to avoid the encounter would be a great start. Allowing me to walk where I feel comfortable, not expecting me to walk on the left of my owner. This is really important particularly when I feel the need for some support – using my owner’s legs as a barrier to avoid traffic, dogs or people, for example. Creating some space, perhaps by crossing to the other side of the road; or moving away in a semi-circle when we are in an open area so as to avoid a head on approach. Good handling, where my lead is kept slack, reducing any tension that might be building and just moving away completely if it is clear I am becoming uncomfortable. Don’t tell me you’ve never hidden in a shop doorway when the “last person you wanted to see” was coming down the street!

There are many other reasons why anxiety and aggression can occur, particularly on the lead. If you want to learn more, then Sheila Harper is running many different dog courses about reactive dogs, giving dogs life skills, appropriate canine play, social skills, dog behaviour and communication and much more throughout the spring and summer of 2016.