Shrug off the embarrassment and do right by the dog
Dogs are social animals and so are we. Therein sometimes lies a problem. Our dogs are part of who we are. How they behave reflects on us.
So if you’ve got a dog who barks, growls and lunges on the lead at every encounter with other people or dogs, it can be petty mortifying . Human nature being what it is, the chances are that what you do in those circumstances has a lot more to do with social embarrassment than helping your dog learn how to do the right thing. You raise your voice, you tell your dog off, you jerk the lead, you show you’re seriously not pleased. This might be effective in showing the other human that you know your dog’s behaviour is unacceptable but does it actually get your dog to cool it? And while it might be perfectly understandable when it comes to our own social conditioning, in dog training terms, it’s bad news. At best, it’s a missed opportunity to resolve problems. At worst, it can exacerbate them.
Dog behaviour like this is often caused by frustration (they want to get to the other dog to meet and greet, but are hampered by a lead) or anxiety (they’re scared of the other dog, no matter how inoffensive or placid it might seem to you, and are making a display to get it to go away). Shouting, snapping or lead jerking either increases the tension and frustration or, for an anxious dog, confirms the view that this is a really frightening situation and ups the anxiety levels and the barking and growling.
So here’s a plea: if your dog is on a lead snarking and growling, don’t shout, don’t tell off or yank back the lead, don’t risk adding to a frustrating or fearful situation. Don’t do what feels like the socially acceptable thing to do. Keep your distance and call forward to reassure the other dog owner that you’re in control. If you know whether the problem is anxiety or frustration, let them know what you are going to do and what you’d like them to do.
And here’s another plea to anyone who’s encountered a barking, growling dog in the hands of a clearly mortified owner – have a little understanding. Feel smug by all means, but cut them some slack. Keep a reasonable distance to keep things cool, but show you understand the situation. If the owner indicates their dog is safe, just loud and they’d like to try a meet and greet, help them out a bit if you feel confident. If you don’t, there’s no shame in that, give them a wave and move off. They’ll appreciate your good nature nonetheless. Often as not, it’s dogs whose socialisation has been held back by illness or injury or rescue dogs that have spent long periods in kennels that experience these kinds of problems. So that owner you’ve come across may very well be doing a great thing to give a dog a new start in life. And in our book, that’s no call for embarrassment at all.