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Prevent dogs from meeting head on

Dogs are getting crazier. People just don’t understand them.

I’ve never gone to a dog adoption event without some idiot allowing his stressed-out dog to charge right up to the dog I’m handling.

Last week I was handling a sweet, laid-back American pit bull terrier named Jada who is a bit dog aggressive. Even after I told other handlers that “my” dog doesn’t do well with other dogs, more than one allowed his or her dog to run right up to Jada’s face. This is not fair to any dog, especially one who is learning how to socialize properly with others.

People are great at setting up their dogs and other people’s dogs for failure. When you’re dealing with powerful breeds, the mistakes can be huge.

Luckily, when dogs do get into scuffles, it’s usually “talk” and no bite. There’s a lot of growling and barking, but no one gets hurt. It sounds bad to us, but the dogs move on immediately.

Handling a rescue dog at adoption events is one of the most rewarding things I can do as a dog lover and trainer. I love helping a dog learn, socialize and have some fun while hopefully meeting the right family. But going to these events also challenges me, because I never know what other people are going to do.

Below are some tips I use to survive situations where a lot of dogs with different energy levels and irresponsible owners are together in a small space.

How to avoid meeting other dogs head on

1. Avoid standing against walls or barriers.

When I’m sitting against the wall with “my” dog, it’s hard to move away from other dogs that charge us. If you’re standing or sitting at an adoption event, a dog show or a training class, don’t sit where your dog could feel trapped. You will have nowhere to go if another dog approaches you.

I’ve also found that sitting on the ground helps me control my dog easier because I’m at her level with less slack in the leash.

2. Walk into your dog so she has to back away from the other dog.

I see a lot of people frantically pulling back on tense leashes. Pulling creates more tension and excitement which will encourage the dog to resist and pull even harder. This often leads to lunging, barking and “choking.”

It’s much more effective to calmly turn into your dog and walk right into her. Don’t kick her, just claim her space. This will distract her from the other dog and cause her to back away while looking up at you. This is the perfect time to offer her a treat. Breaking eye contact between the two dogs will help re-direct the other dog’s attention, too. It should also send a clear message to its owner that an interaction at this time would be a bad idea.

3. Be direct with people about your dog’s aggression issues.

Most people assume all dogs are friendly, even if theirs isn’t. Make sure to tell other owners that your dog does not do well with other dogs. You’ll probably still have to move away from some people, because certain individuals just don’t get it. I know at least one man who thinks handling an aggressive dog makes him a bad ass.

4. Remain calm.

I know this is easier said then done. Most of us have to consciously remind ourselves not to overreact or tense up, especially if we’re predicting the worst. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your dog will be.

5. Challenge your dog in small ways.

Look for laid-back, submissive dogs and explain to their owners that you would like your dog to start meeting other dogs. Be upfront with them if she has aggression issues. Keep the leashes relaxed and allow each dog to smell the other’s butt before they make direct eye contact (awkward, I know). If the dogs seem OK with one another and there is no tension, let them sniff for a few seconds, but quit while your dog is successful.

6. Take breaks.

Do not push your dog too far. If she seems stressed or excited, take her for a short walk away from everyone else and return once she is calmer. If the situation seems too overwhelming for your dog, don’t be afraid to leave early.

7. If mistakes happen, forgive yourself and move on.

When you’re dealing with excited dogs and inexperienced handlers, there are going to be some scuffles. Use these as learning experiences so you do not make the same mistakes multiple times. If your dog lunges or snaps, do not overreact. And don’t overreact if someone else’s dog tries to attack your dog. Re-gain control of the situation and move on.

8. Use treats to distract your dog.

Treats are a great way to draw your dog’s attention away from another dog. Just make sure you are not using treats to reward excited, nervous or aggressive behavior. Also watch for any food possessiveness, which could bring out aggression.

9. Move away from aggressive or excited dogs.

Predict bad situations before they happen and avoid them. Excited, unsocialized dogs will try to run up to your dog. Just move away from these dogs before something bad happens. You can’t control what other people allow their dogs to do, but you can control your own dog.

Stay aware of other people’s dogs and your dog at all times. You cannot check out for even a second. It’s common to see a handler completely focused on someone else’s cute puppy while her own dog is frantically pulling in the opposite direction after another dog. Not good.

10. Control your dog’s energy with exercise and an appropriate collar.

Providing your dog with enough exercise beforehand will help you avoid head-on confrontations because your dog will be less likely to barge up to other dogs. Make sure to use a collar that will give you the most control of your dog. I recommend the pinch collar. If you are uncomfortable with this, then use a Halti or Gentle Leader. Choke or martingale collars do not give you a lot of control in “exciting” situations.

Do you have experience with people who allow their aggressive dogs to run right up to other dogs? What did you do?

For more information on introducing dogs, check out my posts on how to introduce dogs.

Jada is up for adoption with 4 Luv of Dog Rescue. She is in need of a foster home. She is very friendly with all people and would do OK with a laid-back male dog if introduced properly. Edit: Jada was adopted!

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 16th of September 2010

Ugh, I know, it's so frustrating sometimes. My goal is always to maintain control of my own dog and to teach him to stay calm no matter how excited or rude other dogs (and their owners) are. He does pretty well, but it's always an area to work on.


Thursday 16th of September 2010

Hi Lindsay, great post love your tips :)

Two Pitties in the City it's So Hard ... some people just don't get it!

We have a huge problem with this in the city. We encounter so many dogs, many of which are off leash, on retractables, or dragging their owner over to meet us

Lindsya when you said:

I’ve never gone to a dog adoption event without some idiot allowing his stressed-out dog to charge right up to the dog I’m handling.

I totally agree with you on that one!!! This situation happens way too often when we take Halle for her daily walks.

Some people follow proper dog walking and greeting etiquette and others simply throw it out the window. Even if you kindly inform them that you're in the middle of a training session or what not and it's best if the dogs don't meet ... some folks just smile while walking towards us for an unavoidable dog greeting!!! So frustrating. Thanx for sharing.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 30th of August 2010

That's a good idea. I've used that method while out walking and an dog approaches us off leash without an owner. It's usually enough to surprise the dog for a split second and to re-direct the attention of both dogs. A lot of dogs are surprised to hear "no!" for a behavior they've always been encouraged to act out.


Sunday 29th of August 2010

My dog is slightly leash aggressive but the problem is mostly me being overly nervous (she is a large dog). Anyway, what I've found is that raising my voice at the dog (ignore the owner) works. A Step toward the approaching dog and a very loud stern NO or STOP stops many dogs in their tracks.

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 25th of August 2010

Shy dogs are also very uncomfortable with other dogs charging up to their faces. So, that's a good reminder as well. All dog owners should prevent dogs from meeting head on.