In my work I get many questions from people who are fearful of walking their dogs because of other people’s and other dog’s behaviour. What I’d like to remind everyone, is that animals pick up on the feelings we have, especially when we have a special bond with them. If you feel fearful at the beginning of a walk, your dog will pick it up and respond accordingly. He or she will either become very protective of you or become fearful themselves. Both can lead to what is perceived to be aggressive behaviour. They will know that you are scared, but not what you are scared of. So anyone approaching you may well come up against a very protective reaction from your dog and their dog will become defensive which is when arguments and fights break out.
Some mindful tips to start off with:
Before you leave the house, sit quietly with your dogs; communicate to them what you expect from the walk (click here to download a free simple guide on how to communicate effectively with animals). Send positive messages. Stay calm and consciously visualise the route you will take and a peaceful, happy walk. Maintain the calm energy once you start walking. If you see a dog approaching you, stay positive. I always say out loud
“Hello, friend. Look here’s a friend, we’re all friends.”
(This also usually calms the other dogs’ human, easing any anxiety). The moment we are relaxed and positive about meeting a strange dog any anxieties fade and the dogs can greet each other in their usual doggy ways.
Dogs are generally far more relaxed off leads as they feel more in control and less trapped and constrained. Practically this is not always possible. It’s great to find a park or beach where dogs are allowed to be off lead, but remember to always have a lead with you in case you need one.
If you get the feeling that you are being approached by an angry, aggressive dog (usually attached to a fearful, anxious human) stay calm and carry on walking. Either use an alternative route, or if that is not possible, walk quickly past greeting both dog and human in a friendly way. It is important not to let your own fear and anxieties take over, as that immediately overflows to the animals and will cause unnecessary tension.
By working on your own feelings, not only will the dogs you are walking with feel calm, but the other dogs that you may come into contact with will feel less anxious, and hopefully that will spread to their humans.
Also be conscious of what is going on around you during your walk. I have seen so many people’s dogs get upset or into a fight, whilst their human is chatting on their cell phone. Just like when driving a car, you need to be focussed during your walks. You may feel that your dog is very well behaved, and doesn’t need to be “told” what to do, but you can’t account for other people’s behaviour. You need to be aware of other people’s and dog’s action – you can’t do that whilst you are distracted by the phone.
Following Karen Gray-Kilfoil’s excellent practical advice on walking your dog responsibly (see link below), along with being conscious of your own thoughts and feelings whilst you are with your animals, will make dog walking the wonderful experience it’s supposed to be for both you and your canine companions.
By Wynter Worsthorne
Cell: +27(0)78 115 4894