I was out with a client last week and walked past another dog walker who the moment they spotted us, moved away and was obviously wanting space. I initially was really happy as I love it when I see dog guardians knowing what their dogs need and will advocate for them. We of course moved over as far as the path allowed. However, it quickly turned into a sad experience…as they walked past us, the dog gave a few barks at us, and the owner started shouting no and yanking on the dogs lead. This dog was clearly uncomfortable about being this close, and the consequence of the dog expressing his discomfort - he was shouted at and hurt by the person that should be his protector.
This isn’t a one-off experience. I frequently see dog owners that use punishment as a way to control their dog’s behaviour especially when they are feeling embarrassed or out of control of what their dog is doing. I genuinely feel sad, a deep-down stomach sort of upset; but my heart goes out to these people. It’s so hard to have a dog that ‘misbehaves’ and the looks of judgement that come from other dog owners is really hard to cope with. It still shocks me that other dog owners can be so unhelpful towards each other. Surely, we should all be on the same team? We all just want our dogs to have a lovely, safe, happy life?
I understand the stress and frustration of having a dog that looks like a ‘crazy fruit loop’ (my technical term) when another dog turns up. It’s so embarrassing. It’s hard to not get upset and angry as this usually loving dog is now looking like a crazy beast. You don’t understand – you give this dog a wonderful life, and this is how they are paying you back! The walk is for them anyway, and now it’s ruined because of their behaviour. You don’t understand that they are so wonderful most of the time, expect when another dog shows up. Have you considered they might also say the same thing about you??? You are lovely most of the time, but the moment another dog turns up, you turn into a lunatic. You start shouting, pulling, and looking like a mad person! Just a thought…
You and your dog are now in a circle of behaviour in that you both ‘react’ when another dog is present. It’s a hard behaviour pattern to change, but it can be. However, I really want to express my concern in using punishment as a way to stop this reactivity. Making your dog fearful of expressing themselves is not the way to do it. Fear of being hurt or punished will only suppress the behaviour, it won’t change how they feel about the situation. Yes, it might look like it’s working as your dog is no longer shouting or lunging at other dogs – but at what cost? The cost of your dog now living in fear of when the next ‘lead check’ might occur, or worse. Are you aware that dogs don’t process information as we do. They may not understand that the pain is due to their unacceptable behaviour – it’s much more likely they will pair that pain with the presence of the other dog. So now they are even more afraid of the other dog and afraid of you too!
Can you imagine living in a world where the person you trust with your life, is also the person you fear? Dogs are so forgiving animals that they do put up with it. That is not the life I want my dogs to experience or anyone of yours either.
If you are struggling with your dog’s behaviour, please reach out and ask for help. I know that most of us find it hard to accept that we cannot do things alone and that we need help. However, it really can be the best decision you make. Please makes sure you use a qualified, rewarded based trainer, so that you get the best results without it costing the loving, caring and trusting relationship you have with your dog. See the ABTC website link below for details of trainers that follow a code of ethics and have been assessed.