Dear oblivious dog owner with the retractable leash…
I am a normal dog owner that also does pet sitting and dog walking for a living. I am doing the best I can with my dog. I am usually pretty good with dogs too. It seems like as soon as we get one thing under control, another issue pops up. I work with my dog every single day and often wish she gave me less to tackle. She is a smart, active, sensitive dog that I love. Some of my neighbors are making it really tough on us right now though and I am pretty frustrated.
Before I rant about my neighbors, let me share a little about my dog, Betty. When I first adopted Betty almost two years ago, she had no training except crate training and potty training from the rescue group. She was a digger, a nuisance barker, and a chaser of anything that ran or moved quickly. She has made huge progress. She doesn’t dig anymore. She is quiet most of the time. She is great with kids. She is wonderful with elderly people. She has always been good around other dogs. She is a sweetheart of a dog. We have completed group obedience classes and are at an intermediate level currently. We have had private sessions with a trainer as well. Two things happened at the same time that I think contributed to her current leash reactivity: she matured (maturation can sometimes have an effect on reactivity), and we moved from a quiet suburban neighborhood with lots of space to the city with crowds of people walking dogs everywhere at all hours. I am just going to say it. I hate retractable leashes. Hate them! They are a lazy way to walk your dog and give your dog too much room to get into trouble- which happens very quickly when you are not paying attention. They break. The locking mechanisms often fail. I can’t tell you how many times I have walked a dog and the retractable leash was broken. They make it hard to control your pet. They wrap around ankles and fingers and can cause injury and even amputation of fingers.
So, as I have already mentioned, right now I am working on leash reactivity that has gotten worse after moving to a crowded city. I have to walk my dog several times per day and neighbors with their dogs and retractable leashes seem to be oblivious to their effect on other people and other people’s dogs. Here is an example of what happens regularly here. Just this morning, I was walking out to my car to get something. Took my dog with me because I just woke up and she needed to go potty. Figured I would get both done at the same time. I’m working on loose leash walking and she is doing well. It is quiet. I am approaching the stairs to get to the parking area when I see a neighbor with a little dog. No problem, I will take Betty over in to the dirt area right before the stairs and this will give us about 10' away from the passing dog on leash. I have been practicing with her daily so I know how much space we need before reaching her normal threshold of excitability. There is no exit from here -which was a big mistake on my part in retrospect. I am just trying to create some space while they pass. I have my treat pouch. I start to give Betty treats. She is staying quiet but is noticing the other dog. Then the other owner starts RUNNING straight for us. Uh oh. I wasn’t expecting that.. Now I don’t have time to turn around and go the other direction and my dog is definitely excited — but still quiet. I am loading her up with treats as I have no exit plan. The other owner and her dog on a retractable leash reach us and STOP. They don’t pass and continue with their business. THEY JUST STOP AND WATCH US! WTH??? Now, my dog cannot control her excitement anymore and she starts barking and lunging and acting nuts..I was as far away as I could get from this lunatic. Why? Would you run to a stranger with a strange larger dog and just stop and stare?? I really don’t get it. My 5 year old grand daughter knows you don’t run up to strange dogs and or people! This is typical behavior around here. It has been very hard to play engage/disengage here because they let their kids run up to us and kick dogs too. That happened to my mom and her chihuahua. The parent then told the girl to leave the “bad” dog alone. Bad dog? Seriously? If you run up to me and kick me, I would defend myself too!
Anyway, I am digressing. I have read everything that I can find to work on leash reactivity around other dogs. My dog is not aggressive. She regularly socializes with other dogs and never has a problem when off leash. Our problems occur on leash. She started out being reactive to everything while on leash (bicycles, cars, joggers, kids, cats, squirrels, bunnies, other people and other dogs). She is a border collie and her herding instincts are strong. Now, we are working on this last thing that she is reactive to: other dogs on leash. She can walk past many dogs when we are in a crowded setting. If a dog barks at her while on leash, she will bark and lunge. It is the most important issue that we are tackling now. Whenever I walk her and leash her up, I have treats on hand. We practice the engage/disengage game every single day. We create distance when we see other dogs. We turn around if we cannot create distance. Sometimes we turn around and their is another dog right behind us. So, we cross the street or look for a way to create distance. I sit out front with her and load her up with treats when she lets people walk by and is calm. She is improving slowly in spite of my neighbors. I don’t want to use punishment or e-collars in this case because she acts out of excitement. The current protocol for animal training according to the latest science on the subject discourages punishment except as a last resort because it can contribute to aggression. I don’t think I am there yet.
If you have a dog that will walk with you and mind it’s own business, that is wonderful and I am jealous. Please, please, please do not assume that all dogs can do that. I hope that mine will be like that very soon. But, she is not there yet. I walk dogs for a living and I will share that many dogs are not calm around other dogs or people on leash. It is a common issue. If you see someone turn around, cross the street, or walk off the path to give you space, please just walk past them calmly without causing any extra excitement They probably don’t want to meet you at that moment or have their dog petted. We will add polite greetings to our training once she can handle proximity on leash. It is a process. She is not a bad dog. She needs a little space.
Originally published at mrycpetcare.weebly.com.