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Ever wish people would give your reactive dog space on walks?

My personal rule is to leave plenty of space between the dog I’m walking and any oncoming people or dogs.

Most of my dog walking clients’ dogs are friendly, but some are not comfortable with strangers reaching out and touching them (can you blame them?).

So, I want to share a scenario that happens pretty often when I’m walking dogs and a major mistake I made recently.

Normally if I’m walking a dog and someone in the neighborhood stops me to chat about the dog it’s because they’re familiar with the dog. Usually they live on the same street as the dog or something like that and have interacted with the dog before.

When this happens, I judge the situation based on the dog. If I know the dog loves all people, then it’s no big deal. I usually let the person greet the dog. If I don’t know the dog very well or if I know the dog is at all fearful or reactive, we just keep walking.

Well, I made a mistake recently.

I made a bad judgement call.

I was walking two 90-pound dogs that are well trained but not overly affectionate. They won’t growl at a random person, but they’re not thrilled about people petting them and one can get a little nervous when his space is invaded.

So, when a neighbor said hi to these two dogs on our walk and began talking as if he knew them, I hesitated but stopped and let him approach. (Should’ve kept walking.)

He called the dogs by name, but I could tell the dogs were not interested in interacting. They weren’t tense, but they were looking away, sniffing the grass, etc.

I should have said hi quickly and then kept walking because, remember, I don’t know this person.

Then the man did something that absolutely horrified me.

He got down on the ground and put his face right up to one of the dogs.


I was screaming inside, but I knew if I tugged on the leash there was a slight chance the tension could cause an aggressive reaction.

I also didn’t want to tell the man to back off because his quick retreating motion could also cause an aggressive response.

So what I did was make that happy “click-click” sound with my tongue, followed by “Here boy!”

It worked.

The dog turned to me, and I patted his side to ease the tension a bit and boost his confidence.

Then we got outa there.

Reminders for adults around dogs

I’m the one who made the mistake in the above scenario by not protecting my dogs.

However, I also want to list out a few reminders that grown adults don’t seem to follow.

Rules around dogs

  • Do not put your face up to any dog unless you are 99 percent sure the dog is OK with it. This can scare, challenge or threaten a dog.
  • Just because you’ve met a dog before doesn’t mean the dog remembers you or is comfortable with you.
  • If a dog is not showing interest in interacting with you by sniffing, wiggling his body, wagging his tail, leave the dog alone.
  • Stand or sit with your side to the dog instead of face-to-face.

Those are the rules I follow with all of my clients’ dogs, foster dogs and other dogs I interact with.

Woman walking two dogs

Yes, I’ve made mistakes too (read them here). No one is perfect.

But I’m hoping the above “rules” can at least get people to think about their behavior around dogs.

Dog lovers can be the absolute worst because we have this belief that “Oh I love dogs! They love me!”

Have you noticed that if you tell a dog lover your dog is aggressive, it’s almost like an open invitation for the person to prove you wrong?

So, so frustrating! And scary. Unless you’ve walked an aggressive dog, you would not believe what people will do. Actually, I’d love to hear your stories!

The bottom line is, a true dog lover respects dogs and knows that even if she knows a dog well, that doesn’t mean he’s interested in being hugged, kissed, cuddled, etc.

Simon the Lab mix - Give dogs space

I’ve been growled at by dogs for stupidly trying to hug them when they were not OK being hugged by me. Thank goodness the dogs was polite enough to growl rather than bite.

Have you ever been in a bad situation with a dog?

Related blog posts:

5 mistakes I’ve made that resulted in dog bites

How to prevent a stressed dog from biting

Teaching dog bite prevention to kids (From Puppy Leaks)

My dog bit my child (from Lola the Pitty)


Monday 6th of March 2017

I absolutely cannot stand how many people I have had try to approach my fearful dog, then they get all offended when she gives a warning growl, and then they tell me "I've NEVER had a dog not like me". It's kind of amazing how many people have zero concept that dogs can be afraid of you, no matter how many other dogs like you. Also, I have to say, it's a little irritating when people see your dog once, they give a warning growl, and from that day on they hate your dog and consider it vicious. Yes, sensitive subject for me, I have a fearful and reactive dog who happens to be 7 year old lab/shepherd mix, so apparently that doesn't help.


Sunday 5th of March 2017

I've learned good information from all these dog owners. Never had an aggressive dog out of our five dogs, one Irish Setter and four Standard Poodles, but did have an incident where I was too friendly with a 110 lb. dog. Learned my lesson the hard way.

Rachel Renshaw

Friday 16th of December 2016

Our GSD was never socialised at a young age. He was left outside in a shed with his litter mates to defend and fend for himself for the first 8 weeks. He was never like a normal puppy - we couldn't get anywhere near him for a while. When we brought him home there was a full on fight with one of his litter mates because he was 'on the others territory' we assumed - no it wasn't just puppy fighting - it got quite aggressive from the onset. When he went to the vets for his first jabs at 8 1/2 weeks old, he 'shouted' at the vet. He is coming up to 5 years old now, and if anyone so much as looks at him his alarm bells ring. One lady was walking our way, following us. When we got across the road she stopped and wanted to talk. Because she'd followed us, then stopped to look (& talk), although Odin can be polite, other people don't seem to see him getting riled up and tense. its not until he moves on to the next stage because they haven't listened to him and understood that dog behaviour that says "keep away", they eventually go away. I just say he's not good with strangers. Very few people can get within 6ish feet of us. Both me & my partner say that if he wasn't 'abandoned' when he was young, he would be a totally different dog - a proper role model for his breed, and we see a half wild dog - as we called him when he was only a few months old. He doesn't trust us as he should, but listens to his instincts because his "plastercine brain" hardened off to a great extent before we got him. Along with his past, and suspected blood lines (police dog), an interactive dog like this can be a handful - you really need to know how to handle & treat him. We even have to watch out for people carrying sticks/umbrellas - to him they are weapons.


Tuesday 13th of December 2016

My dog is dog reactive. I work with 2 trainers and they are convinced she was taken away from her mom way too early and never learned socialization. She reacts with a fight or flight instinct and is 71 pounds. My sweet dog is perfect with people, and even better with children, but turns into a lunging Cujo if another dog comes too close. Even when I use my high value treats, keep the distance with another dog/owner, at times the owner just keeps walking closer to us. At times I yell out "please walk the other way, my dog isn't good with other dogs" and the owner yells back, 'that's ok, my dog is good with other dogs" and keeps walking toward us. At this point my big girl starts lunging and is hard to control (I'm 5'2' and 115 pounds), and it takes all my power to pull her and go the other way...she at times has downed me. It infuriates me as the other person thinks just because their dog is good with other dogs, all dogs will be ok.


Tuesday 13th of December 2016

I have a 200# Neopolitan Mastiff. It constantly amazes me that people will let their toddlers and young children run up to him and grab at him without ever checking to see if he will welcome such interaction. Not my dog's fault, but he will be the one blamed if there is an incident.