A Dog's Eye View: Protecting fearful, reactive dogs

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Laura Tyler

Horse people know the rule: Never pass close behind a horse with a red ribbon tied to his tail. That red ribbon signals to people that this horse might just kick if you get too close.

I wonder if, as a community, we might adopt a similar habit of having our reactive or fearful dogs wear a red bandana tied around their necks to signal to others that our dogs should not be approached.

For those of us with fearful or reactive dogs, the everyday walk can turn into a stressful event when we are attempting to keep our dog calm and keep somebody’s loose dog from triggering a bite or fight. Those loose dogs pose a real problem for dogs on a leash. If you combine that predicament with a loose dog that doesn’t respond to his owner’s call to return quickly to him, then both dogs are in trouble.

Many performance dogs as well as pet dogs have trouble adjusting to the close proximity of other dogs and people in a congested environment. I recently attended a seminar on “Canine Structure and Movement” by Dr. Chris Zink, whose specialty is veterinary care, training and rehabilitation for performance dogs, such as dogs that compete in agility and fly ball. There were more than 20 dogs and 50 people in a large conference room at a hotel in Grand Junction. We were required to adhere to the “Red Bandana” rule for dogs that might have issues with other dogs or people during the conference. Other than a few barks and “snarks” during the two days, there was no trouble between dogs or people. I even had my shy little rat terrier wear the bandana the first day to allow her time to adapt to that environment without people or dogs getting into her space. Her second day there was much more relaxed for her, and the bandana was not necessary.

We all enjoy the opportunity to get out and walk with our dogs. We share the road with other drivers and cyclists, so why not share the trail or sidewalk and make sure all dogs are kept safe? Save the off-leash play for the appropriate designated areas or areas out of town where you can see people and dogs coming from a long way off.

Make sure your dog truly is off-leash-ready by training a really reliable recall. Respect that person whose dog is wearing a red bandana. After all, that’s for your dog’s safety and protection, too.

Oh, and don’t forget to clean up after your dog — I never can resist the temptation to sneak in that reminder.

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.

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