A Dog’s Eye View: Leaving room on the trail
March 21, 2013
Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series about proper trail etiquette for dogs. Read the second part here.
We've all been in an elevator without much room to move. I always feel a bit defenseless in that situation. I want a protective bubble to surround me or maybe a force field to shield me from possible dangers and sweaty people.
Elevators give me that too-close-for-comfort feeling much of the time, but experience has taught me to relax and maybe even strike up a conversation with a person riding with me. At other times, I'd prefer to be left alone. This feeling is common among dogs, too.
During the wintertime, many trails get walled in with snow, and some dogs are uncomfortable with other people and dogs in that type of situation. And because the dog is on leash, as well, it limits its ability to communicate clearly with oncoming canines. Dogs that pull their owners straight up to other dogs and immediately start sniffing or standing over the dogs are breaking doggy etiquette rules. That particular behavior is rude and sometimes threatening to other dogs.
We often hear that rambunctious dog's owner say, "Oh, he just wants to meet your dog. He's friendly!" He might be very friendly, but proper greeting behavior requires two willing participants. Did you notice the other dog try to back up or bark to put space between itself and the oncoming dog? Leash aggression is a common result of improper greeting rituals, and repeated encounters like this can trigger a lifetime of problems for a dog.
Last week, I was preparing for a walk with my dog, and I witnessed a person walking a small dog on leash. This person spotted another dog walker coming down the trail. That dog was pulling his owner at a fast pace along the trail. The savvy small dog owner stepped off the trail and had the little dog stand behind a pile of snow until the big dog and owner walked by. Not only was the small dog's owner street smart, she showed good etiquette on the trail. The big dog seemed friendly and excited to be out with his owner, but his size and energy level would be a disadvantage to a small dog trying to move by in that tight situation.
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This time of year, it's difficult to move a nervous or reactive dog off the trail while others walk by. If you have a dog like this, a red bandana tied around its neck is a visual signal to other dog owners. Ask the oncoming dog walker to please give your dog some space, and indicate that your dog should not be approached.
Next week, I will offer some training solutions for both types of dogs in this situation.
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.