Over my lifetime of living with reactive dogs I’ve experienced the pressure that people feel when out in public to be seen ‘doing something’ in response to a dog reacting. There is a definite feeling that you should be seen to address a reaction outwardly when in the public, particularly when you’re out walking your dog and you don’t necessarily know that the people witnessing a reaction understand what’s going on. I personally found this pressure led me, and still occasionally does lead me to do things in response to a reaction that I wouldn’t if I knew I were in an environment where reactions were expected (such as a class for reactive dogs or a room full of dog trainers). It’s never led me to do anything nasty to my dogs but I find myself needing to say out loud that my dogs are being stupid, silly, or quite often something ruder.
This post is for everyone who has a reactive dog. If your dog reacts in public, I don’t want to see some outward display of you telling your dog off or showing that you know their behaviour was wrong. I want to see you get your dog out of that situation as quickly as possible whilst keeping everyone safe. Obviously, that will look like different things in different scenarios. A lot of the time it will mean just walking faster and getting your dog away from something. Sometimes it will mean communicating with others around you that they need to move or move their dogs in order for you to safely move. Bonus points if you can communicate with others using kind words (I’m not going to say kindly as sometimes you’ll have to shout in order to be heard and that’s okay) but you also need to communicate quickly and effectively and sometimes that is hard to do whilst also being kind.
This applies even to preventative measures in order to stop your dog reacting or in order to keep everyone safe. If I see a muzzled dog I will do my best to find a way to congratulate you on that as long as I don’t think it will trigger your dog into a reaction. I don’t care on about the reasoning behind the muzzle, you’re protecting your dog and that’s important. I want to see you protecting your dog. That is all that matters to me. If I see you protecting your dog and others having a go at you for that I will do my best to come and help you, provided I don’t think that it will make your dog feel worse.
So, reactive dog owners, please don’t feel that I need to see you reacting to your dogs reaction in order to please the other humans around you. My driving instructor told me that if I annoy someone on the roads, not to let it get to me because that person won’t remember it by the end of the day. If they’re being rude, that’s on them, not me. We all know what it’s like when we’ve had a bad day and someone cuts us up at a junction, can you remember the face of the person who last did that to you? Would you recognise them if they walked past you? I certainly can’t. Apply this to those you see out and about with your reactive dog, if they expect you to react I promise they won’t remember your face at the end of the day. It will be one of those thoughts that gets lost to the abyss of small human thoughts. Don’t outwardly tell your dog off in order to please one person’s small thought.