Sidewalk Encounters: Feisty Fidos


You’re out walking with your well socialized, friendly dog when it happens: Another dog out for a walk with his owner sees you and your dog and goes ballistic. This dog is lunging at the end of his leash, teeth bared, growling and barking at your dog. What do you do?

The most important thing to realize is that the majority of dogs that react this way upon seeing another dog are usually doing so out of fear or frustration. Dogs that are fearful are likely to have lacked proper socialization during their puppy stage, they may have some genetic component that influences their fear, and/or they may have been traumatized by an attack by another dog. Frustrated dogs, on the other hand, are usually social and friendly when off leash, and may have developed these behaviors as a result of owners shortening their leash around other dogs in response to over exuberant greetings, being pulled away from other dogs after greeting, or just frustration and over arousal from being restrained. Rather than being “mean,” think of these dogs like toddlers having a meltdown and responding the only way they know how.

Dogs rely on loud and dramatic displays to try to influence the approaching dog to move away. These are termed “distance increasing signals” and may include obvious signals such as the barking, growling and lunging described above. They may also include more subtle signs, such as:

  • High “flagging” tail (where the dog is carrying his tail up and over his back, and may be accompanied by slight wags)
  • Piloerection (raised hair along the dog’s spine)
  • Lowered head
  • Hard, fixated stare
  • Forward pricked ears

When you see a dog displaying any of the behaviors listed above the best thing you can do for your dog, and for the approaching dog, is to move away. If these signals are ignored, the dog may escalate their aggressive reaction. It can be quite scary, stressful, and traumatic for your dog to experience these displays, and they may start reflecting these behaviors back on their walk as they try to keep other dogs away from them. Call your dog’s name so that he doesn’t stare at the other dog. Direct eye contact, whether dog-dog or human-dog, can seem very threatening to the dog on the receiving end. Eye contact should be avoided or stopped as this can escalate the aggressive behavior. Use the Touch cue to encourage your dog to change direction and walk away from the other dog, or to walk quickly passed the other dog while preventing eye contact. Practice emergency u-turns to quickly move away when you come across a reactive dog unexpectedly.

Often, owners of reactive dogs will be working  with their dog on walks, trying to minimize their aggressive outbursts. In this case, you'll usually see the owner feeding their dog treats while you walk by with your dog. This helps their dog associate your dog with things he really likes, and will over time help decrease their dog’s fear or frustration caused by seeing your dog. Make sure to give this dog lots of space! Close and/or extended contact will likely still trigger a reaction in this dog.

Some dogs further in their training will no longer react to another dog unless they are within close proximity. To make sure that you are protecting your dog from a negative experience, the best practice is to always ask the other owner whether or not their dog is friendly, and if your dog can say hello. Be prepared to receive some nos! And make sure that your dog is prepared to hear no as well, and practice politely walking by other dogs without greeting.

Happy walking!


Holiday Survival Guide

Walking in a Winter Wonderland ...

Take your dog on enrichment walks before guests are due to arrive.  Allow your dog to sniff to his heart's content on these walks, as processing all those smells can be very mentally taxing. Choice can be a large enrichment factor as well, so allow your dog to choose the direction to walk in, too! 

If you're cramped for time, having multiple stuffed food toys prepared and ready to go is an easy way to balance both your dog's boundless energy and your need to socialize with family and friends. Stock up ahead of time on classic Kongs, marrow bones, West Paw zogoflex or toppl, Busy Buddy Twist n' Treat or barnacle toys, to name a few. Check out for recipe ideas of what to fill these toys with! 

 SSDT Dog Trainer Leslie Roach's dog Ripley

SSDT Dog Trainer Leslie Roach's dog Ripley

There'll be parties for hosting ... 

Remind your dog what they should be doing when guests arrive. If your dog knows sit (or down) and stay, ask your dog to do that while guests enter your apartment. Remind your dog to sit when greeting guests, and reward your dog for compliance. You can have small dishes of treats in dog proof places so that your guests can ask your dog to perform basic commands as well. If your dog does not have a reliable sit, down, or stay, rely on management to prevent jumping or inappropriate behavior. Busy holiday gatherings are not the time to try to train your dog - instead have your dog crated in a quiet room with a high value kong, or have your dog on leash. 

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire ...

While Chestnuts are not toxic to dogs, poinsettias and mistletoe can be. Be sure to keep all decorations out of reach. Remember too that chocolate, grapes, raisins, and onions are toxic to dogs. Gifts that contain food should be left on tables out of reach of nosy dogs. Avoid feeding your dog table scraps as these foods can be too fatty and rich for your dog to digest safely. Have the ASPCA poison control phone number (888-426-4435) in plain sight in case anything goes wrong! 

There's No Place like Home for the Holidays ...

Travel can be very stressful for dogs and humans. If your dog is an anxious traveler, discuss with your veterinarian the potential for using an anti anxiety supplement or medication. Update your pet's identification tags and microchip with the correct information and make sure that your dog is up to date on all vaccinations. If you're traveling by plane, check your airline's website to familiarize yourself with their specific requirements. Tire your dog out before travel with physical and mental exercise. 

If your dog is meeting extended canine family for the first time, meet on neutral territory and take the dogs for a walk. If one or more dogs are un-socialized or not friendly, management via crating and rotating may be the easiest and least stressful option. 


Happy Holidays from the SSDT Team !!