Imagine this: You’re walking your leashed dog on a trail and you see a leashed dog approaching.  The owner tenses, pulls the dog to their side, and starts a string of random phrases aimed at their dog along the lines of “Leave it.  No.  Uh huh!” etc.

You’ve seen it before.  Their dog has a problem.  They know it and you know it (or should know it) because the human body language is clear – a worried handler getting ready for…something.

When a random person starts tightening up their dog’s leash – pay attention. That is a human cue!  It means they don’t trust their dog.  I know this because 90% of the pet dog world wants their dog to meet other dogs and if they don’t?  They bring their dog back?  Start talking to their dog?  They’re worried.

What do you do next? I asked this question in a small group of “dog people” recently and the response was intriguing.   I got stuff like: Bring their own dog back to their side, feed cookies, turn and go the other way, pass with one’s own dog close on the other side – whatever.  Not one person said, “I talk to the other person,”  Yet talking to the other person is the most logical thing to do.

How about, “Are you worried about your dog?  What can I do to help you out?  I can go to this part of the trail here and move my dog to my other side, will that work?” Or “I can pick my dog up and turn my back to you” (small dog people), or “I’ll go up on this log here and you can pass” or…whatever really. Except for a speech.  A speech about how they shouldn’t be out there?  No – that’s not going to improve your situation. Think in terms of changing behavior and being safe – if you’re communicating your rightness, you missed the boat – plus you’re about to end up worse off.

I interact with people every time I’m on a public trail and you know what?  It’s amazing!  Like magic!  It works.  They relax and respond with anything from, “I never know what he’ll do” to “Oh, he’s just super friendly” to “Oh, that’s great!  okay – I’ll go on this side….”  And most of the time, they say thank you (or apologize) when they pass.  It’s not hard and so far I’ve had 100% success when I have talked to the other. Success is defined as no lunge or snark – peace for my dog – plus a nice social encounter.  Sometimes I have not talked to the other person for whatever reason.  My success rate, in those instances, is much lower.

People want to get along but they have this weird aversion to talking to strangers, even when it’s in their best interest.  Personally, I have no interest in watching my dogs get lunged at so I talk to people when I see that it has value.  What do you need?  How can I help? Talking to people also creates strong societal ties – we’re all in this together!  It’s just….nice. Makes my walks better.  Communication works to solve a lot problems but you have to be willing to talk to people; to be open and friendly and helpful to others.  To move away from the belief that no one cares and you’ve been wronged – because…they do care.  But you need to reach out and either ask for help (if you need it) or offer help (if they need it).

Try it.  Talking to people.

Now I’ve been around dog people long enough to know the response I’m going to get to this blog.  In YOUR case it’s different.  Why should you have to reach to out to other people?  They shouldn’t (fill in the blank)….take reactive dogs out in public who are going to lunge, take super social dogs out in public when your dog doesn’t like to be stared at in public, let dogs off leash in on leash areas, let dogs legally off leash if other dogs are on leash in the same area – the list of reasons why we are being wronged is quite long and often absolutely contradictory even within the same circles.

If you own a reactive dog then you “have a right” to take that dog in public since he’s on-leash and not physically connecting with other dogs – fine.  If you own a fearful dog then you “have a right” to take your dog in public without getting lunged at – fine.  If you have a big, social dog then you “have a right” to go to an off-leash park without worrying about on leash dogs in the same area – fine.  If you have a small dog then you “have a right” to go to off-leash areas and not worry about big dogs chasing your dog – fine.   And those conversations usually devolve down to carrying mace or a big stick or just shooting the other dog – because we all “have a right” and we shouldn’t have to inconvenience ourselves.

Finding ways to make it work rarely comes up in these conversations.  So if you’re looking for one, a solution, I’m going to recommend trying communication; solve THEIR problem and you may well solve your own.  Certainly works well for me.

I don’t stay home. I go out and do stuff. Mostly it’s good.  99.9% of time.  Sometimes it’s not – and if a given area is consistently a problem I go somewhere else.  If I cannot take a risk at all with a given dog then I don’t go out at all with that given dog.  I control my behavior.  And when I’m around others?  I communicate as soon as I have a reason to do so. Heck, I communicate when I don’t have a reason to do so – “Hello!” “Good morning!”  This approach allows me to enjoy the wider world, regardless of their belief about dogs. It also changes their behavior as they recognize possible solutions, so that makes the lives of others better as well – it just doesn’t impact me directly.

Before you think my life is enchanted…I have chosen to take my big dog and my little dog to different places.  I made an assessment about the safety of the situation for my two dogs and…I decided to change my behavior for the safety of my small dog. I’m not angry or bitter that I’m not getting my way; that I might encounter off-leash dogs where they should be on-leash or that people have on-leash dogs in the area that is designated (formally or otherwise) for off-leash. That takes energy better spent on other matters.  I want to reduce my risk a stress related stroke and improve my overall happiness to boot, so I changed my behavior and take my small dog somewhere else that we won’t have problems.  Accept some inconvenience to my situation in exchange for a calm mind.

You control your behavior and choices. One of your options is communication. It’s powerful. Try it!