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Handy Hints About Dog-To-Dog Interaction

Having had both dog-friendly and dog-unfriendly dogs in my family, I’m able to talk about this topic from the point of view of my own experiences on both sides of the fence. Below I give hints on dog-to-dog interactions: five hints for dog-friendly dogs, and five hints for dog-unfriendly dogs.

Before I launch into things, I must remind you that this is just general advice. If your dog has issues with other dogs, you should not only do your own reading and research, but also seek professional one-on-one help from both a behaviourist and a trainer.

If Your Dog Is Dog-Friendly...

Hint 1: Always Ask

Always ask whether it’s okay for your dog to approach another person’s dog. This is so important. You can’t know whether a dog is dog-friendly or dog-unfriendly just by looking at him - you must ask. And remember, small size doesn’t indicate anything, and neither does cuteness. Assume nothing: always ask.

Hint 2: Hesitation Means Trouble

The only thing you want to hear in response to the question “Is your dog okay with other dogs?” is a decisive: “Yes, my dog’s fine with other dogs”.

If someone shows any hesitation (“Er, uh, well…my dog’s alright”), or if the person’s reply sounds so uncertain that it’s more like a question than an answer (“Um, yeah?”), then walk away.

In my experience, any faltering means that either the person knows their dog is not reliably okay with other dogs, but are too embarrassed to admit it; or they’re in denial about their dog’s issue, even though deep down they know there’s a problem. Either way, if someone gives anything but a clear-cut affirmative answer, don’t risk it: walk away.

Hint 3: The Frantic Recall

If a person frantically calls their off-lead dog to them as soon as they see you with your dog, keep your distance. Their dog is clearly dog-unfriendly, and should not have been off-lead in the first place.

Take it from me, you'd be wise to get as far away as possible from people who don't take precautions with their dog-unfriendly dog, because they're seriously irresponsible, and should be avoided at all cost. My dog, Jake, got badly mauled and ended up with brain damage because of the negligent behaviour of such people. (You can read about it by clicking here: Irresponsible People: Dog Attack.)

Hint 4: Avoid The Avoider

If someone crosses the road or does an about-face when they see you and your dog approaching, don’t go chasing after them so that the dogs can meet. If someone is obviously trying to avoid you, they’re probably doing it for a good reason (ie. because their dog is dog-unfriendly), so take the hint and avoid them back.

Hint 5: Be Understanding

Not all dogs have had a good upbringing. In fact, some of them have had a absolutely awful upbringing, and for some dogs that has affected how they feel about other dogs. When you encounter someone with a dog-unfriendly dog, reserve your judgement until you learn something of the dog’s background. You might be dealing with someone who didn’t bring their dog up right, or you might be dealing with someone trying their best with a rescue dog who already had issues when he was adopted.

Either way, if the person is trying to help their dog overcome their issues with other dogs, be positive and encouraging. Even if the dog’s issues are due to that same person's mistakes, at least they're now trying to sort things out. The last thing that dog needs is for his person to give up on him, so be as positive and encouraging as possible.

If Your Dog Is Dog-Unfriendly...

Hint 1: Be Brutally Honest

You’re not doing your dog any favours if you lie, so be straightforward with people. When someone asks, “Is your dog okay with other dogs?” the answer you should give is a simple “no”. Go on to discuss the matter in more detail if you wish, but to begin with, make it absolutely clear (using the unmistakable word “no”) that your dog is dog-unfriendly.

Don’t say “Not really”, or “Mostly no”, or “Well, she can be funny at times”. This is not the frigging Polite Convention here. Choosing a nice way of saying things that may not get across the plain truth is foolish. DON’T do it. If you have a dog-unfriendly dog, admit it, admit it immediately, and without mincing words. It’s your responsibility to protect your dog from situations he can't handle by being honest.

Hint 2: Be The Avoider

As you embark upon helping your dog to overcome his issues with other dogs, it’s best if you initially avoid uncontrolled dog-to-dog meetings. In other words, steer clear of dog parks where dogs are running loose. Stick to on-lead walks, and when you see another dog approaching, calmly cross the road.

Don’t be surprised, though, at how obtuse some people can be: I’ve had people cross the road and chase me around the footpath after I’ve crossed the road to avoid them. If they catch up, they’ll often say, “My dog just wants to say hello”, to which I apologetically reply, “Unfortunately, my dogs doesn’t”.

Hint 3: Dogs Who Lead People

As you progress in helping your dog-unfriendly dog, the time will come when you’ll be required to calmly walk by other on-lead dogs, rather than crossing the road. And this is something you'll do while keeping a considerable gap between the dogs, so that there's no interaction.

However, even if your dog has reached this stage, it’s best to avoid getting close to people who allow their dogs to control the walk. You’ll be able to see from afar that the dog is dragging the person, pulling ahead, and weaving around. It could be that the dog is free-walking at that particular time, but it could also be that the person has little or no control over the walk. You want to set your dog up for success at every stage of therapy, so it’s better to avoid situations where you suspect that the other person's dog is in control of the walk instead of them.

Hint 4: Practise sit/stay Commands

As you advance, the time will come when you’ll be required to get your dog to practise a sit/stay as another dog walks by. Once you see a dog headed your way, you’ll tell your dog to sit/stay, and have him remain sitting and focussed on you (treats help!) while the other dog passes.

Occasionally you get people who don’t know what you’re trying to do, and they’ll try to approach; but for the most part, people will give you a nod of recognition and keep moving by with their dog.

Hint 5: Be Thankful

Unfortunately, not all that many people are particularly understanding when you have a dog-unfriendly dog. In fact, they can be very judgmental, despite the fact that they know nothing of your dog’s background.

It could very well be your fault that your dog is dog-unfriendly. If you had your dog from a puppy and didn’t bring him up right, his issues are because of you. But for those who rescue dogs, some of them come with issues already in place - issues we had nothing to do with creating.

Anyway, when you come across someone who is not understanding, explain to them what the story is - whether that story is that your dog’s issues are due to your mistakes, or that you’re doing your best to fix someone else’s mistakes. And when you do come across someone who is understanding, be sure to thank them for that.

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Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance

It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.

Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.

Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.

Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.

Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.

If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.

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