Here are two situations that happened in August. First, my daughter and I were in Indiana with two of our dogs for dog shows. We were leaving for home and were on the hotel elevator. As the doors opened, a large Goldendoodle lunged in after our significantly smaller dogs.  

Second, a trainer I know was working with her new service dog. This woman has a progressive medical condition and is often in a wheelchair. As they were out, a large, muzzled, loose dog went after her dog. 

In each situation, the people with the offending dogs were oblivious to the risk they allowed to happen. Let’s look closer at why there were risks.

I keep my dogs on short leads when in hotels. I also check before we get on and off elevators, go through doors or around corners.  It is a safety thing. I need to know what my dogs are walking into.  However, the Doodle was on a retractable lead. When the elevator door opened, the Doodle lunged into the elevator, accompanied by, “He wants to be friends!” 

The Doodle’s body language was far from friendly. My dogs were now on the defense, and we had no escape. Luckily, the Doodle backed off when my senior dog snarled as we were moving as far back as we could in the metal box. I had to tell the woman to back her dog away. Thank goodness things did not escalate, but my oldest dog was on edge for some time after.

What about the trainer and her new service dog? The assaulting dog’s person yelled those dreaded words: “It’s OK!  He’s friendly!” This dog’s assault was far from friendly. Even a muzzled dog can do damage. Luckily, there was no physical harm done.  However, the trainer was left emotionally strained and was concerned about setbacks with her dog.

Part of being a responsible dog person is keeping your dog under control. Use regular leashes and not extending/retracting ones, especially when in public. Learn body language.  Get to know what your dog is conveying and how the other dog is responding.  

Allowing your dog to bark, lunge, and hard stare at other dogs increases the risk of the other dogs developing undesired behaviors from stress. Your dog does not have to greet every dog he sees.  Louder for those in back:  Your dog or puppy does not have to greet every dog he sees!

Two weekends after the elevator incident, my daughter, two of our dogs and I were in Michigan. I was walking the dogs around the large hotel complex before we settled for the night. I stopped at my car to get something. 

Suddenly, a Mini Australian Shepherd scooted out from under my vehicle. He went after my dogs. “He’s friendly!”  echoed across the parking lot. No, he was not.  The dog’s body language certainly was not friendly. As I told the man to get his dog and reminded him about leash laws and safety, he embarrassedly scurried away with his dog.  

How would you feel if every time you walked down the street you were stared at or yelled at or people got in your face or ran up and started touching you? We need to be aware of what we allow our dogs to do. Just because you assume your dog is trying to be friendly, he or the dog he is targeting may not be as friendly as you think.  Be respectful and responsible. We will all be safer for it.

Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.

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